Stephen Foster

Stephen Foster tribute
1851 Song Sheet
postcard of Foster Memorial in Ford's Greenfield Village, Detroit
Foster Memorial in Ford's Greenfield Village, Detroit
1826 - Stephen Foster was born on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, on July 4, the same day that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died.

1846 - Foster worked as a bookkeeper in Cincinnati and began to publish his song compositions, one of the earliest being "Oh! Susanna."

1848 -The Christy Minstrels performed "Oh! Susanna" that Foster had written in 1847, and it became a national hit song, but Foster only earnied $100 from the initial sale of the song.

1849 - Foster signed a contract with the New York music publisher, Firth, Pond & Company, determined to write music as a career and to earn a steady income from royalties of 2 cents each sale. He wrote Ethiopian minstrel songs for the stage but with "Old Uncle Ned" in Dec. 1848 and "Nelly Was a Lady" in 1849 he began to write of slaves as human beings capable of love and nostalgia, the first white composer to portray blacks as loving husbands and wives. His friend Charles Shiras was a leader of the abolitionist movement in Pittsburgh.

1850 - Foster returned to Pittsburgh and married Jane Denny MacDowell, became a professional songwriter, daughter Marion was born 1851.

1851 - Foster wrote his most popular song "Old Folks at Home" that would also be known as "Swanee River."

1852 - Foster took his only trip into the Deep South, a steamboat to New Orleans.

1854 - Foster wrote "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair," a love song inspired by the absence of his wife.

1864 - Stephen Foster died of alcoholism and a fall from his bed in New York City. Shortly thereafter his renamed publishing company, William A. Pond Co., published the last song he wrote a few days before his death, "Beautiful Dreamer." During his lifetime he earned only $15,091.08 in royalties from his sheet music. He died with 38 cents in his pocket.