Stephen Collins Foster

Page 8
The Early Years In Foster's Career As A Composer

Cincinnati, Ohio,
In The Days Of Stephen Foster

The Early Years of Stephen Foster's Musical Career
In 1846 Stephen Foster went to Cincinnati to work for his brother Dunning, as a bookkeeper of the firm of Irwin & Foster. This position he held only two years, being very unhappy in this work. The Irwin & Foster firm was located at No. 4 Cassilly's Row (presumably the sixth building from the left) later known as "Old Rat Row." There is a pleasing traditional story that on a dreary afternoon in March, 1847, Stephen Foster, perched on a high stool in the office of Irwin & Foster, added a column of figures, closed the ledger and began to hum a tune and write these words:
"No use talkin' when de Nigga wants to go whar de corn-tops blossom and de cane-brake grow; den come along to Cuba and we'll dance de polka-juba, way down souf, whar de corn grow."
Mr. Irwin, head of the firm, smiled at Dunning Foster and said: "Stephie's writing another song." Dunning replied, "I'm afraid my little brother will never make a business man." This is the song which was submitted by Stephen Foster at a prize contest for minstrel songs. It did not win the prize. As a practical bookkeeper, Stephen Foster was a success; his books were models of neatness and accuracy. In his heart he was a glorious failure. Glorious, to the extent that it caused him to turn to the one thing he longed to do. Uncle Ned and Oh Susanna were written during Foster's musical bookkeeping days in Cincinnati, and although the latter was not so successful in those days, he has been quoted as saying: "Imagine my delight on receiving $100 for Oh Susanna."

Jane Denny McDowell Foster,
Jane Denny McDowell Foster, Stephen's Wife
Stephen Foster's wife. During the first year of Stephen's career as a composer, 1850, he married Jane McDowell on July 22. There is no trace of the romance between these two and very little is known of their life together. One fact is certain, that the marriage did not prove a success and they were separated a short time before Stephen's death. Jane McDowell was the daughter of Dr. Andrew N. McDowell, a leading Pittsburgh physician; she had been a source of great inspiration to the young composer, as is known by his own words and by the fact that some of his best songs were the product of their first years of marriage. Before her marriage she had been the contralto of a Stephen Foster Quartet, of which Susan Pentland, his sweetheart of youthful days, was the soprano.

Marian Foster Welsh
Marian Foster Welsh
Stephen Foster's only child. The surmise is that Marian was born in 1851 as today (1930) Marian Foster Welsh boasts of her seventy eight years. She lives(ed) at the Foster Memorial Home in Pittsburgh. Shortly after the child's birth, Stephen and his wife went to live in New York at the urgent request of his publishers but the life there did not seem to please him and one day he suggested to his wife that they return to Pittsburgh. According to Morrison Foster, from 1853 to 1860 Stephen lived at home, which no doubt meant, Allegheny City. It is known that during Fosters stay in New York he won the admiration of prominent musical personalities, but for some reason or other, he did not profit by his advantages and his musical productivity grew steadily less.

Another Picture of Marian Foster
Another Picture of Marian Foster


A Circular of Edwin P. Christy
And His Minstrels

A circular of Edwin P. Christy and his minstrels
Negro minstrelsy originated about 1830 but it really did not reach its full development until some years later. It was, in those days, the popular form of entertainment and was also the means of quickly spreading from place to place, the popularity of the latest song hits. The origin of minstrelsy is a very human one, as it is the origin of most things, and that of minstrelsy happens to be found in the performance of an old actor who was imitating the singing of Jump Jim Crow by one of the Kentucky negroes. This characterization took the country by storm and so the birth of minstrelsy. It flourished steadily and many were the names of famous minstrels. However, Christy's troupe, which was formed in 1842, made the greatest contribution to this form of art. Prizes were often offered by publishers to induce the composing of minstrel songs;
Foster's first direct contribution to this type of music was in 1847 when he sent in as a contribution to one of these contests, Down South Where the Cane Grows, written during his bookkeeping days in Cincinnati. The song was not accepted as a prize winner but was of sufficient interest to induce those offering the prize to seek to copyright it. The first of Foster's minstrel songs to be published was Louisiana Belle, which appeared in 1847 and the copyright was taken out by W.C. Peters, the publishers; no mention was made of the composer. it should be known that a great number of Foster's songs were never attributed to him for the very fact that the publishers secured the copyright; among these was the popular Uncle Ned. With the popularity of minstrelsy, Stephen Foster was launched on a musical career at the age of twenty two. Most of his songs were sung by the Christy minstrels for whom, after a time, Foster composed almost exclusively. E. P. Christy was original in his work in that his troupe was much larger than most of the others and sat in a semi-circle on the stage with an interlocutor and end men. Their ballads were sung by a solo voice with the entire company joining in the chorus. Christy did much to popularize the songs of Foster, but to Foster goes the credit of making an important contribution to the reforming of negro minstrelsy by substituting drollery, humor and pathos in the place of trick, antics, buffoonery and vulgarity of many of the negro songs. (Photo: From Dailey & Spaeth's Gentlemen Be Seated. Courtesy Doubleday, Doran & Co., Inc., Pub.)


Letter To E. P. Christy
Letter to E. P. Christy
written by Stephen Foster. It is most interesting to note the business transactions between Foster and Christy as they come to light in this letter. It is here seen that Foster transacted with Christy for the song, Oh Boys Carry Me Along, to be sung before publication, and also that it was to be used by the Christy singers exclusively. Also of note is that the saying "Gentleman of the old school," was in vogue even in those days. This letter definitely establishes the fact that Foster permitted Christy to use his songs before publication for monetary compensation.

Another Stephen Foster Letter
Another Stephen Foster Letter
to E. P. Christy, in which, having received the stipulated sum, he sends the proposed manuscript of Oh Boys Carry Me Along, asked for in the previous letter. These transactions usually amounted to about $15. Foster knew how his songs should be sung and the admonition he offers Christy in this letter is memorable in that Christy followed his suggestions and was successful.

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