Stephen Foster

Stephen Foster

Lawrenceville, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA
Death 13 Jan 1864 (aged 37)
New York, New York County (Manhattan), New York, USA
Burial Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA
Plot Section 21, Lot 30
Memorial ID 360 · View Source
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Composer. Stephen Collins Foster was America's first great songwriter. Many of his songs are still well-known more than 150 years after their composition. His first hit, "Oh! Susanna" (1846), became the anthem of the California Gold Rush. Foster's other popular works include "Camptown Races" (1850), "Nelly Bly" (1850), "Old Folks at Home" (also known as "Swanee River," 1851), "My Old Kentucky Home" (1853), "Old Dog Tray" (1853), "Hard Times Come Again No More" (1854), "Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair" (1854), and "Beautiful Dreamer" (1862). Foster wrote in the minstrel tradition of the time, in which white entertainers would blacken their faces to parody slaves. But he never stooped to racism, and his songs overcame their origins with their sincerity, empathy, and beguiling melodies. He produced over 200 songs, and wrote the lyrics for most of them. Stephen Collins Foster was born in Lawrenceville (now part of Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania. A self-taught musician, he learned to play the clarinet by ear and published his first song, "Open Thy Lattice, Love," when he was 18. In 1846 he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to work as a bookeeper for his brother, and brought out two collections of tunes, "Songs of the Sable Harmonists" (1848) and "Foster's Ethiopian Melodies" (1849). He returned to Pittsburgh in 1850 and signed a long-term contract to write songs for the Christy Minstrels company. Foster was a poor businessman. He sold his songs for little money and saw none of the huge profits sheet music publishers made from his work. In 1860 he went to New York City, where he spent his last years struggling against increasing poverty, illness, and alcoholism. Foster died at 37, of head injuries from an accidental fall in his Bowery hotel room. At the time of his death he possessed exactly 38 cents. Out of respect for the composer, a transport company shipped his body back to Pittsburgh for free. Foster's songs are so deeply rooted in American folk tradition they are often viewed as folk music themselves. When composer Charles Ives, that homespun eccentric nationalist, wanted a real American flavor in his music, he quoted Foster. His art even found its way into 20th Century pop culture. "Camptown Races" is the tune ubiquitously hummed by the rooster Foghorn Leghorn in Warner Bros. cartoons, and was memorably parodied in the comic western "Blazing Saddles" (1974). And the 1960s TV comedy "I Dream of Jeannie" derived its title from a Foster song. For all its quaintness and sentimentality, Foster's music remains a living part of America's cultural heritage.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards


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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 360
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Stephen Foster (4 Jul 1826–13 Jan 1864), Find a Grave Memorial no. 360, citing Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .