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Stephen Collins Foster

Stephen Collins FosterBorn: 4-Jul-1826
Birthplace: Pittsburgh, PA
Died: 13-Jan-1864
Location of death: New York City
Cause of death: Accident - Fall
Remains: Buried, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Songwriter

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: My Old Kentucky Home

The American song and ballad writer Stephen Collins Foster was born in what is now Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on the 4th of July 1826. He was the youngest child of a merchant of Irish descent who became a member of the state legislature and was related by marriage to President James Buchanan. Stephen early showed talent for music, and played upon the flageolet, the guitar and the banjo; he also acquired a fair knowledge of French and German. He was sent to school in Towanda, Pennsylvania, and later to Athens, Pennsylvania, and, when thirteen years old he wrote the song "Sadly to Mine Heart Appealing." At sixteen he wrote "Open thy Lattice, Love"; at seventeen he entered his brother's business house, Cincinnati, Ohio, where he remained about three years, composing meanwhile such popular pieces as "Old Uncle Ned", "O Susannah!" and others. He then adopted songwriting as a profession. His chief successes were songs written for the negro melodists or Christy minstrels. Besides those mentioned the following attained great popularity: "Nelly was a Lady", "Old Kentucky Home", "I Dream of Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair", "Old Folks at Home", "Massa's in de Cold, Cold Ground", etc. For these and other songs the composer received considerable sums, "Old Folks at Home" bringing him, it is said, $15,000. For most of his songs Foster wrote both songs and music. In 1850 he married and moved to New York, but soon returned to Pittsburg. His reputation rests chiefly on his negro melodies, many of which have been popular on both sides of the Atlantic and sung in many tongues. "Old Black Joe", the last of these negro melodies, appeared in 1861. His later songs were sentimental ballads. Among these are "Old Dog Tray", "Gentle Annie", "Willie, we have missed you", etc. His "Come where my Love lies Dreaming" is a well known vocal quartet. Although as a musician and composer Foster has little claim to high rank, his songwriting gives him a prominent place in the modern developments of popular music. He died after an accidental fall in a New York City hotel room on the 13th of January 1864, with 38 cents to his name.

Father: William Barclay Foster (merchant)
Mother: Eliza Clayland Tomlinson
Brother: Henry
Wife: Jane Denny McDowell (m. 22-Jul-1850, until his death)
Daughter: Marion (b. 18-Apr-1851)

    High School: Athens Academy, Tioga Point, PA
    High School: Jefferson College, Canonsburg, PA (dropped out)

    Songwriters Hall of Fame
    Risk Factors: Alcoholism



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