Stephen Collins Foster-Father of American Music
Stephen Collins Foster
The Music of Stephen Foster
While attending Tuxedo Elementary School during the mid-1950s I was introduced to such songs as Oh, Susanna, Camp Town Races, and Old Black Joe. All of these songs were included in the song book we used whenever we had an assembly and our Principal, Mr. Dean Ward would play the songs on our old piano and lead the singing. Mr. Ward was a gifted educator and one who had grown up in the Green River area overcoming poverty having attended the University of North Carolina to earn his teaching credentials. His enthusiasm for music was instilled in the impressionable minds of the students within our small elementary school where students came from the cotton mill village and rural farm children from the Zirconia area.
The above songs were the compositions of Stephen Collins Foster. Foster was born in Pennsylvania on July 4, 1826 and died in New York City on January 13.1864 at the age of 37. Foster's main musical influences were from two men. His first was Henry Kleber, a German, who taught him classical music and the second was a man by the name of Dan Rice, an entertainer (clown/singer) of the period when faces were painted black in traveling shows reminiscent of the Vaudeville era that toured the countryside providing entertainment in small town venues.
In 1846 Foster moved to Ohio where he worked as a bookkeeper and it was while he was living here he penned Oh Susanna. The song was a hit and as a student at the Tuxedo Elementary School was the song we square danced to for one PTA meeting. Foster was ahead of his time when it came to copyright laws and consequently could not make a living writing music at that time. He only receive $100 for Oh Susanna according to the information on the internet.
Foster's work and music remain iconic. The melodies though simple are haunting and nostalgic. He is known affectionately as the "father of American music. For those of us who enjoy the old songs and this style of music, his is a legacy which lives on within our repertories of tunes which have so influenced our love for music. Thank you Stephen Collins Foster for your contributions to our beloved world of music.
Foster died at the age of 37 living in the Bowery of New York City having never really achieved the status he so well deserved but the music remains as a testimony of his efforts.