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Saturday, 21 February 2015

Stephen Foster

Stephen Foster was born in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania., on July 4, 1826 of well-to-do parents. He was of Scotch-Irish ancestry.

By the time Foster was 15-years-old, he had already composed a waltz for four flutes. He entered Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, but his only interest was music and he left college after only a month.

His family objected to a musical career, and in 1846 Foster went to Cincinnati to be a bookkeeper for his brother's steamship company.

Foster's first great musical success was "Oh! Susanna" which was first performed in the Eagle Ice Cream Saloon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 11, 1847. It became an anthem of the California Gold Rush.

Original sheet music

In the late 1840s Foster returned home to concentrate on being a songwriter. He signed a contract with the Christy Minstrels and it was during this period that Foster would write most of his best-known songs such as "Camptown Races" (1850), "Swanee River" ((1851) and "My Old Kentucky Home" (1853).

Foster was the first man to be paid a royalty on sheet music sales and the first American to make a career of writing songs.


Foster married Jane Denny MacDowell on July 22, 1850 in Trinity Episcopal Church, Pittsburgh. He wrote “Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair" for her four years later. They had one daughter, Marion, but their marriage was troubled and the couple separated.

Never very astute financially, in 1857 Foster sold all rights to future songs to his publishers for $1,900. Profits went largely to the publishers and performers.

In 1860 Foster  moved to New York City, but separated from his wife, his fortunes decreased . Impoverished, he died in Bellevue Hospital, New York City on January 13, 1864 of alcoholism and a fall from his bed  Soon afterwards, Foster's renamed publishing company, William A. Pond Co., published the last song he wrote a few days before his death, "Beautiful Dreamer."



During his lifetime Foster earned only $15,091.08 in royalties from his sheet music. He died with 38 cents in his pocket.

Foster is known as the "father of American music." He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.

Foster commemorative stamp in the Famous American Composers series, 1940

“My Old Kentucky Home" is the official state song of Kentucky and "Swanee River" is the official state song of Florida.

Source Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia © 1998 The Learning Company, Inc

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