Although Foster’s melodies are very familiar, amazingly little is known about the composer.
These pages represent an effort to present such information as is available and accessible about Foster’s life.
Stephen Collins Foster was born 1826 in Lawrenceville/Pennsylvania. Many of his songs were written for minstrel shows and were very popular. Foster wrote most of his well known songs between 1850 and 1860. Despite the popularity of his music, Foster lived in poverty. Since his songs were not protected by copyright, Foster realized only scanty income from them. He died in New York City in 1864.
Foster’s songs are characterized by moving melodies and simple harmonies. He composed 285 songs, hymns, arrangements and instrumental works and wrote the lyrics for most of them as well.
Foster’s popular melodies became the music of America. He had the ability to lend a new voice to his musical environment, a very personal voice -- a voice of the heart. Foster’s music has become an essential component of America’s cultural heritage through its sincerity and universal longing for its audience.
More than a century before Foster began composing, Henry A. Cleveland wrote:
“American music must dedicate itself to the people and go among the people, otherwise it cannot exist.”
Without a doubt, Foster succeeded in doing just that.