DEAD: ON THIS DATE
The father of American music (aged 37)
-American songwriter (Oh! Susanna, Camptown Races)
Stephen Collins Foster (July 4, 1826 – January 13, 1864), known as “the father of American music”, was an American songwriter known primarily for his parlor and minstrel music. Foster wrote over 200 songs; among his best-known are “Oh! Susanna”, “Hard Times Come Again No More”, “Camptown Races”, “Old Folks at Home” (“Swanee River”), “My Old Kentucky Home”, “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair”, “Old Black Joe”, and “Beautiful Dreamer”. Many of his compositions remain popular more than 150 years after he wrote them. His compositions are thought to be autobiographical. He never saw the Sewanee River, never went from Alabama to Louisiana, and never lived in Kentucky. He has been identified as “the most famous songwriter of the nineteenth century” and may be the most recognizable American composer in other countries. His compositions are sometimes referred to as “childhood songs” because they have been included in the music curriculum of early education. Most of his handwritten music manuscripts are lost, but editions issued by publishers of his day can be found in various collections.
DEATH: Foster became ill with a fever in January 1864. Weakened, he fell in his hotel in the Bowery, cutting his neck. His writing partner George Cooper found him still alive, lying in a pool of blood. Foster died in Bellevue Hospital three days later at the age of 37.
When Foster died, his leather wallet contained a scrap of paper that simply said, “Dear friends and gentle hearts”, along with 38 cents in Civil War scripand three U.S. pennies. The note is said to have inspired Bob Hilliard’s lyric for “Dear Hearts and Gentle People” (1949). Foster was buried in the Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh. After his death, Morrison Foster became his “literary executor”. As such, he answered requests for copies of manuscripts, autographs, and biographical information. One of the best-loved of his works, “Beautiful Dreamer”, was published shortly after his death.