Introduction



This site is dedicated to the memory and works of Stephen C. Foster. It is the desire of Bob January, to share the life and music of this talented American songwriter with all people who want to explore what the actual sentiment of this period in history was about. What better way to feel it, than through the music of the times. Many will fondly recall these familiar tunes from their own childhood and those who are first 'meeting' Stephen Foster, will be charmed. Either way, we hope that you will leave with a better understanding of the climate of the era, deeper insight to the nature of Stephen Foster and the nature of his music...music that was able to raise a level of understanding and compassion.

Bob has been able to add this entire area to his site, because of the efforts of Dr. Deane Root and Kathy Miller, at The Center for American Music Library at the University of Pittsburgh, to share their time and materials. The Center for American Music at the University of Pittsburgh is the world's largest collection of Stephen C. Foster Memorabilia. It is worth a non-cyber visit when you're in Pittsburgh, as is the adjacent University of Pittsburgh itself. The Center for American Music at the University of Pittsburgh web site, contains a complete list of Foster's Compositions.

The Pictorial Biography and accompanying text contained within this site, are directly based on a copy of an issue of the Musical Courier, 1930, devoted to this extraordinary composer. The Tioga Point Museum in Athens, Pa. very generously donated their time and efforts to share with the larger world, some Foster treasures in their possession.

Credit for the article appearing in the Musical Courier: Photos and data collected by Grover Sims, supplementary material from other sources, edited and amplified by Margherita Tirendelli. Further editing and design for use on these web pages has been done by Bob January and Margaret Mintz.

Preface

Stephen C. Foster, born July 4, 1826, died, January 13, 1864, "..set a nation a' sing-ing". There is no corner of America and possibly the world, where the strains of My Old Kentucky Home and Suwanee River have not been hummed, yet many do not know who first put those strains of music on paper.

Foster's first claim to the affections of the American people is that he has given us the greatest contribution to our folk-lore. He was born on July 4, 1826, a notable date in the history of the Declaration of Independence. Throughout the country great preparation had been made to properly celebrate this event. Colonel William Barclay Foster, Stephen's father, whose love of country was almost a passion, was among those who made the day memorable. His home in Lawrenceville, Pa., known as the White Cottage, welcomed many veterans of the Revolution of that day, and at noon, just as the guns were firing the national salute, the child who was named Stephen was born.

Just as the child was seeing the light of day, John Quincy Adams passed into the great beyond. Shortly before sunset of the same day, Thomas Jefferson also died.

Stephen Foster's further claim to the affection of Americans is that he sings primarily of the Negro and that his songs were born at the very time when the Negro was a paramount subject in the United states. Stephen Foster revolutionized the art of Negro minstrelsy, a strictly American form of entertainment, raising it from the level of coarseness and buffoonery to one of humor and pathos. He is popularly known because of his Negro contributions, but prior to launching on this career, he wrote many songs which well up from the heart of the nation at large. An excellent example is the typical Nelly Bly.

It required audacious courage for a youth of western Pennsylvania, in that period in time, to announce his intention of becoming a song writer, a hitherto unknown vocation in America. He was born with a rare gift which neither he nor his family recognized for a long time. These were pioneer times, days for the clearing of timbered lands, building roads and canals, establishing trading posts, building homes, churches and schools, rather than strumming on a guitar and writing poetry and melodies. Stephen possessed a willingness to be set aside from the crowd and be 'different', despite ridicule. The course his career might have taken had he been raised in a musical atmosphere, is difficult to determine.

The simplicity of his songs is no doubt due to the same characteristic in his nature; he was unpretentious, his sympathies were preferably with the 'under dog', his feelings were of the most sensitive sort and his emotions easily aroused. His eyes were the most remarkable feature, being very dark and large and carried a deep, pensive look. But with this sensitiveness he had a great physical courage.

Stephen Foster's ability for the honest expression of real emotion is the life blood of art, no matter what it's form. His art has an appeal that is not only American but universal. But because he was American and because the life of the American people is closely woven with the very essence of his songs, does he deserve the consideration which has been accorded him.


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