Stephen Foster

July 04, 1826 – January 13, 1864

Modern Period

Born in United States

Born on the Fourth of July, it is ironic that Stephen Foster would later become the first professional American songwriter. Growing up in the Pittsburgh area, Foster did not enjoy school but preferred to spend his time learning music. As a young adult, Foster spent several years living in Cincinnati, working as a bookkeeper for his brother’s steamboat company. He later would return to Pittsburgh to marry Jane MacDowell and launch his professional career as a songwriter.

Foster is known for his minstrel tunes including “Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races,” “Old Folks at Home,” and “My Old Kentucky Home, Goodnight!” He also wrote famous parlor songs including “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” “Gentle Annie,” and “Beautiful Dreamer.” Many of these songs are known for their sentimentality, a trait that has struck a chord with nostalgic America ever since.

To learn more about Stephen Foster and his music, check out Naomi Lewin’s radio program Stephen Collins Foster: America’s Bard.