Stephen Collins Foster

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Foster, Stephen Collins


Born July 4, 1826, in Lawrence-ville, near Pittsburgh; died Jan. 13, 1864, in New York. American composer of popular songs.

Foster’s songs incorporated the traditions of family music making (the sentimental ballads “Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair,” “Old Dog Tray,” and others), Negro spirituals and plantation songs (the hymnlike “Way Down Upon the Swanee River,” “Old Black Joe,” and “My Old Kentucky Home”), and the comic songs of the minstrel show (“Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races,” and “Old Uncle Ned”). Foster also wrote songs about the American Revolution (1775–83). Many of his songs became so widely known, even in other languages, that they came to be regarded as folk songs. They were used as “folkloric” material by C. Ives, A. Copland, and F. Poulenc.


Foster, M. Biography, Songs, and Musical Compositions of Stephen Foster, 2nd ed. Pittsburgh, 1896.
Milligan, H. V. S. C. Foster. New York, 1920.
Howard, J. T. Stephen Foster: America’s Troubadour, 4th ed. New York, 1953.
Austin, W. W. Susanna, Jeanie, and the Old Folks at Home: The Songs ofS. C. Foster From His Time to Ours. New York, 1975.


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Thanks in part to Stephen Collins Foster, the troubled troubadour, "the influence of the Negro reaches every part of American music, and of foreign masters."
Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) was born in Pennsylvania on July 4, 1826.
The poet's predecessors in the use of African-American dialect were white writers, such as Irwin Russell, Stephen Collins Foster, Joel Chandler Harris, and Thomas Nelson Page, but they were unable to portray African-American life with Dunbar's personal insights.