Stephen Collins Foster: America's Bard

Airs at 6 pm on July 4, 2014

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

It’s hard to imagine American music without the work of Stephen Collins Foster. Foster was born on July 4, 1826 – 50 years to the day after the Declaration of Independence was signed. In 19th century America, popular songs were churned out by the dozens, but no other composer of the day wrote as many great songs with as much sticking power as Foster. We all grew up singing Oh, Susannah, Beautiful Dreamer, Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair, Old Folks at Home… the list goes on and on. 

This one-hour program, written and hosted by Naomi Lewin, includes those songs, and many others, plus instrumental numbers. Among the performers: Marilyn Horne, Thomas Hampson, Itzhak Perlman, and Leopold Stokowski leading the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Happy Fourth!

Program Details

BEAUTIFUL DREAMER: OMEGA 3005, Track 1 (3:29)
Benjamin Luxon, baritone
Instrumental ensemble conducted by Carl Davis

TIOGA WALTZ: ProPiano 224535, Track 16 (2:20)
Sara Davis Buechner, piano

CAMPTOWN RACES: London 417 242, Track 4 (2:14)
Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano
English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Carl Davis

OH, SUSANNAH!: (download)
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski

JEANIE WITH THE LIGHT BROWN HAIR: London 417 242, Track 1 (4:17)
Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano
Osian Ellis, harp

MY WIFE IS A MOST KNOWING WOMAN: Angel 54621, Track 14 (3:47)
Thomas Hampson, baritone
David Alpher, piano

SOIRÉE POLKA: Centaur 2250, Track 4 (1:49)
Noel Lester, piano

SWEETLY SHE SLEEPS, MY ALICE FAIR: Angel 54621, Track 11 (3:27)
Thomas Hampson, baritone
David Alpher, piano

IF YOU’VE ONLY GOT A MOUSTACHE: London 417 242, Track 3 (3:01)
Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano
English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Carl Davis

WE ARE COMING FATHER ABRAAM: Albany 1056, Track 2 (4:11)
Stephen Swanson, baritone
David Gompper, piano

WAS MY BROTHER IN THE BATTLE?: Nonesuch 79158, Track 3 (3:54)
Jan DeGaetani, mezzo-soprano
Gilbert Kalish, melodion

OLD FOLKS AT HOME (arr. Heifetz): EMI 56602, Track 9 (3:43)
Itzhak Perlman, violin
Samuel Sanders, piano

OLD FOLKS QUADRILLES: Arabesque 6679, Tracks 23-27 (4:01)
Paula Robison, flute
Krista Bennion Feeney and Calvin Wiersma, violin
John Feeny, double bass
Samuel Sanders, piano

MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME: Arabesque 6679, Track 28 (2:31)
Paula Robison, flute

HARD TIMES COME AGAIN NO MORE: THM 5432, Track 21 (4:37)
Thomas Hampson, baritone
Craig Rutenberg, piano

BEAUTIFUL DREAMER: RCA 61253. Track 2 (underscoring)
Robert Shaw Chorale conducted by Robert Shaw


More in:

Comments [20]

Silversalty from Brooklyn

Beautiful presentation of beautiful music. Thanks.

Jul. 04 2013 02:22 PM
Bruce Mountjoy from Pittsburgh,, PA


I wanted to thank you for the wonderful tribute to Stephen Foster. It just concluded airing on 89.3 WQED here in Pittsburgh. As a lifelong Pittsburgher, I am proud to boast about our famous native whenever I can!!

If your listeners are interested, there is a beautiful statue of Stephen crafted in 1900 by Giuseppe Moretti in Schenley Park, the Stephen Foster Memorial at the University of Pittsburgh contains many interesting artifacts detailing Foster's life, and next weekend the annual Stephen Foster Music and Heritage Festival, known as "Doo Dah Days" will be held at Foster's burial site, Allegheny Cemetery, in Lawrenceville.

Thank you!!

Jul. 04 2012 08:19 PM
Caren Leonard from easton, pa

When I moved to Pennsylvania in 1988, I was rather surprised to encounter blank stares when I mentioned the name Stephen Foster. True, I live on the other side of the state from Pittsburgh, but you'd think the entire state would want to lay some claim to a native son! I remember singing Foster's songs when I was in elementary school in the fifties, but what really turned me on to Foster and his music was the book He Heard America Sing which I discovered in the children's section of the Franklin Square (NY) Public Library when I was in fourth grade. Two years ago, I was happy to find that book on a shelf in our local middle school library. And, I am happy to report, the local public library ordered a copy of Doodah! in the nineties after I requested it. Prior to that, the library possessed not one book about Foster. I even tried to organize an open mike of Foster songs to celebrate the 4th about ten years ago, but wasn't able to generate much interest. Oh, well, I am happy for Foster's music and happy that WQXR is giving it airplay. Hopefully, people will enjoy it for many years to come.

Jul. 04 2012 02:00 PM
Bruce from Ohio

Thank you to everyone who had a hand in making this SC Foster program possible. Years ago, as a 12 year old learning the saxophone, I played a lot of sheet music for fun. My family owned a book of Foster's songs, including the lyrics. As I played, I read. As I read, I memorized. As a result I always felt this was my entrance into the world of American folk music. I hope his music is never forgotten, always appreciated, and always recognized as distinctly American, which means something we can all consider part of our musical heritage.

On a personal note, fifty years ago I remember my dad singing "I dream of Jeannie with the light brown hair" as I played my saxophone with him. At the time I appreciated how music could connect the generations throughout American history. Now it's a treasured memory, and I have Foster (and WQXR) to thank for it.

Jul. 04 2012 12:22 PM
Harvey Weinberg from San Diego, CA 92128

Dear Naomi Lewin,

I always listen to WQXR while I'm working and I love listening to you speak, you have a most educated, cultured, refined voice and manner. However, please oh please check the dictionary for the pronunciation of "sinfonia." You and all of your colleagues at WQXR mispronounce the word. It's "sinfuneeuh" not "sinphonenyuh." Look it up. If you would like I can scan it and send to your e mail .

Harvey Weinberg
San Diego, CA, 858-705-6606
We moved here seven months ago from the upper Eastside of Manhattan. Big mistake. When you leave New York you're not going anyplace.

Jan. 18 2012 04:29 PM


We won't be rebroadcasting this anytime soon, but you can listen to it again anytime at the top of the page.

Jul. 06 2011 04:25 PM
Gerard from CT

Will this program be rebroadcast and if so, when?

Thank you.

Jul. 05 2011 07:43 PM


We just posted the playlist from this program. Enjoy!

Jul. 05 2011 12:33 PM
Maureen from Central Florida

Dear Naomi,
Your Independence Day program was the most delightful musical celebration I have ever enjoyed on the Fourth. Terrific program with Cinn. Pops and their wonderful conductor, Eric Kunzel. My favorite was Fanfare to the Common Man by Coleman.
Thank you so very much,

Jul. 04 2011 06:09 PM
Gerry DeChaves from Summit, New Jersey

Congratulations to Naomi Lewin for an extremely well put together program on Stephen Foster. Growing up in the Azores, my colleagues and I used to think that he would be an extremely well known composer in America and his songs whistled by just about everyone. That may have been because Foster’s style conveys a melancholy and loneliness somewhat felt by remotely situated island people. In any event, at the age of 19, when I came to the US, much to my surprise I knew more about Stephen Foster than the people I dealt with. I remember specifically once being told not to hum “Oh Suzanna” because it might offend some of the people around. Needless to say I did not understand the admonition at the time. And so I was glad to listen to Naomi’s program twice, it not only brought back remembrances of my youth but I hope it helps establish Stephen Foster as a serious American composer. Well done Ms. Lewin.

Jul. 04 2011 04:39 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane from BOONTON, NJ

STEPHEN FOSTER, America's earliest composer to address the work travails, the humanity, and the attitudes of the black population of his time and to compose melodies that rival still greater comosers' respective oevres. His "Come Where My Lies Dreaming" is worthy of comparison to songs by Schibert, Hugo Wolf and Schumann.

Jul. 04 2011 01:01 PM

Ah, if only Ralph Kramden could have heard Naomi Lewin's program on Stephen Foster - he would have known that it was Foster who composed "Swanee River" (and not ! Ed Norton), and sailed on to the "$99,000 Answer" !

Jul. 03 2011 11:47 PM
Jim from OKC, OK

At the end of the program, there was a mention of a link to the soundtrack of the songs played on the program. I have been unable to find that link.
Could I get some help?

Jul. 03 2011 02:11 PM
Susan from New York, NY

What a beautiful program - lovely music and great background information. Thank you
so much, Ms. Lewin for your efforts - they were worth it!

Jul. 03 2011 01:32 PM
Barry Owen Furrer

That's not a banjo on his knee - why, it's Ms. Lewin! Great photo! Besides Stephen Collins Foster, please remember to play some John Philip Sousa over this patriotic weekend. Perhaps next year you could pay tribute to The March King with an hour long show? BTW . . . Sousa's Band featured music of Foster from 1894 to 1930. See, the "pops" formula even worked in Sousa's day!

Jul. 01 2011 08:11 PM
helen kosuda from NYC

I am looking forward to this tribute. We just sang some Foster in our spring concert of the Hudson Valley Chorale!

Jul. 01 2011 04:32 PM
Barry Owen Furrer

Another ironic Independence Day trivia bit besides Mr. Foster being born 50 years to the day after the signing of The Declaration is the fact that two of the Declaration's architects, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on this same date. Those at Adams' bedside were said to have heard him utter "Thomas Jefferson survives" just before passing - and who said U.S. history is boring? Thank you to our servicemen and women who keep us safe and keep us free! Happy 4th everyone!

Jun. 30 2011 09:14 PM
David from Flushing

I wonder if school kids today know any of the old "classic" songs we learned back in the 1950s. I tend to suspect they have faded away.

Jun. 30 2011 08:40 PM
kiminnyc from New York, NY

Cute picture! Love Stephen Foster's music.

Jun. 30 2011 04:57 PM
Jorge Fernández-Baca from Lima, Peru

I am a lover of Stephen Foster's songs and I am glad to hear that there will be a program dedicated to his work.

Jun. 29 2011 02:03 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

The WQXR e-newsletter. Show highlights, links to music news, on-demand concerts, events from The Greene Space and more.

Follow WQXR