Stephen Collins Foster: America's Bard

Thursday, July 01, 2010 - 02:53 PM

It's hard to imagine American music without Stephen Foster. We all grew up singing Oh, Susannah, Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair, Old Folks at Home--the list goes on and on. With no recorded music in mid-19th century America, the market was all about sheet music and lots of people churned out popular songs. But no other composer of the time wrote as many great songs with as much sticking power as Stephen Foster.

In the words of another great American songwriter (George M. Cohan), Stephen Foster was a Yankee Doodle Dandy, born on the Fourth of July. In celebration of his birth, I've put together an hour-long program of his music, which will air on WQXR on Saturday, July 3 at 5 p.m.--right after the opera--and again on Sunday, July 4 at 11 p.m. You can also hear the show on WQXR.org. 

Happy Fourth!

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Comments [8]

Renee Tiesler from Manhattan

This was a most wonderful program. I'm glad it is being repeated. Thanks so much!

Jul. 02 2011 08:40 PM
Brian Kennedy from Cranford NJ

"His songs resemble folk songs in their simplicity and sincerity and heartful emotional sentiments. Anyone can sing them." Says the previous poster, Mr Lane. I'll go one further. There are many people who think songs like "Oh! Suzanna" and "The Camptown Races" are traditional folk songs and indeed they become that in a way. They may not be whistled on every street corner but they have entered the American Psyche as potently as any music has. Thanks Naomi and QXR for the program. Thanks Kenneth and the other posters...I have long thought Foster the unsung (irony intended!) hero of American song.

Aug. 24 2010 05:08 PM
Esther Magid from Staten Island

Thank-you for that educational as well as entertaining programming. I was quite taken aback by one of the songs on the subject of his seemingly not so blissful marriage or was it? Can you refresh my memory as to the name of that endearing love ballad?

Jul. 26 2010 01:33 PM
Roger Lakins from North Bergen, NJ

Many thanks for a beautiful program that was, to this listener, the highlight of my holiday. The rich sampling of his works and the elegant performances were such a treat. Your commentary was superb. Thanks!

Jul. 05 2010 12:05 AM
Gervásio DeChaves from Summit, New Jersey

I grew up in the Azores Islands, an archipelago in the North Atlantic almost midway between Europe and America and belonging to Portugal. Notwithstanding its geographical remoteness it was an “in” place in my day. Most planes and transatlantic ships would stop there for refueling and so we were hip to the American culture, or so we thought! The music of Steven Foster was definitely the one to sing if we wanted to show off our prowess in English even though it was difficult to understand the lyrics. Many of them didn’t make sense to us but we sang them nonetheless. And so it was that when I first arrived in America, in 1956, I expected Steven Foster’s music to be whistled in every corner. Much to my disappointment it wasn’t. To me, it was the epitome of American popular music. Listening to this program of Foster’s music, especially the way it was played and sung, was a thorough combination of nostalgia and enjoyment. I now understand why I couldn’t make sense of the lyrics when I was a young man. It is too bad that some of them are as offensive as they are but maybe we can omit those and just listen to the music. Thank you for putting on this marvelous, marvelous program. How enjoyable!

Jul. 04 2010 12:56 PM
Joan Rosenfelt from Pond Eddy, NY

That was truly a beautiful program. I made sure to be around to hear it (in my Sullivan County country home) and I am so glad I did. It was truly touching - such lovely songs, so nicely rendered - touched my heart - truly. Thank you! (And I'm so glad to see that we can hear it again by clicking on some link? That would be GREAT!)
Many thanks.
Joan Rosenfelt
Pond Eddy, NY

Jul. 03 2010 06:13 PM
Michael Meltzer

The discography of the legendary collaboration of Jan de Gaetani and Gilbert Kalish has hardly been touched by WQXR. Hopefully this is the necessary introduction.
Song composers of the 20th century owe Mr. Kalish and Ms. de Gaetani's memory a great debt.

Jul. 03 2010 05:42 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane from Lake Hiawatha, NJ

Stephen Collins Foster, born on July 4th, 1826 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when it was a small town. For historical perspective, the very day he was born, BOTH ex-presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died. In a lifespan of only 37 years, he composed over 200 songs. His songs resemble folk songs in their simplicity and sincerity and heartful emotional sentiments. Anyone can sing them. His minstrel songs, as "Camptown Races",his love songs, as "Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming" and "Beautiful Dreamer" and "Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair" vie with his novelty songs ,as "Some Folks Do". What one song is very timely now is: "Hard Times Come Again No More"! He died in New York City in the Bowery in a slum apartment, penniless and a physical wreck from his striving without arriving at monetary security. Had penury and alcoholism not pre-doomed him, he might have accomplished considerably more than his 37 years would allow. Still, his output of over 200 songs is a treasure.

Jul. 01 2010 05:40 PM

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