Stephen Foster, also known as Stephen Collins Foster, was born on July 4, 1826, and died on January 13, 1864. Many consider him to be the “Father of American Music.” Many historians and American musicologists agree that Stephen Foster was the preeminent American songwriter in the 1800s. Many of his songs are still popular today, such as “Oh! Susanna.” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Camptown Races,” “Beautiful Dreamer,” and “Old Black Joe” are some of Stephen Foster’s other well-known songs. Most people know his famous song “Old Folks at Home” as “Swanee River.”
Stephen Foster was born in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, which is now a part of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. Foster grew up in a working-class family as the youngest of ten children. The family was nearly bankrupt when his father’s alcoholism took hold. Foster’s education, which included only one month at Washington and Jefferson College, was not primarily musical. Foster published a number of songs before turning twenty, despite having little formal training.
He moved to Ohio in 1846 to work for his brother’s steamship company as a bookkeeper. He wrote “Oh! Susanna” there, which became a hit song and was very popular among those who were caught up in the California Gold Rush in 1848 and 1849. He also wrote the popular song “Nelly Was a Lady,” which was made famous the Christy Minstrels. He returned to Pennsylvania after signing a contract with the group. As a result of this contract, he wrote many of his best-known songs. Despite the fact that many of his songs were written for blackface minstrel shows, which were very popular at the time, he told both performers and audiences that he wrote them not to mock slaves, but to inspire compassion for them.
Musical copyrights were not nearly as strict at the time as they are now. Stephen Foster struggled to make a living as a songwriter as a result of this. Publishers of musical line sheets were known to make minor changes to a song in order to avoid having to pay the author for the rights.
Stephen Foster moved to New York City in 1860. His wife returned to Pittsburgh with their daughter a year after the move, leaving Foster behind. For Stephen Foster, this was the beginning of the end. His songs’ popularity waned, and he died at the age of 37.
He’d become destitute and was now residing in the North American Hotel on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Stephen Foster had exactly 38 cents to his name at the time of his death. Foster had been sick with a high fever. He fell and received a head wound after rising to call for assistance from the chambermaid. He died after three days in the hospital.