I couldn’t find a documentary about Steven Foster. Ever heard of him? Probably not. He was an educated middle-class White man who died with nothing. Seems like a horrible ending to the life of the father of American song. At least that is what I thought. To see so little of him on the internet when people like Joseph Stalin are all over the internet vexes me. Steven Foster, the American icon no one knows, deserved better during his life and even now more than 100 years after his death.
You may not know who Steven Foster is but I bet you’ve heard some of his songs. “Oh, Susanna”, “Camptown Races”, “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair”, and “Beautiful Dreamer” are just a few of the 200 songs Foster wrote that have survived. Many of his songs centered around Americas south-lands even though during his entire life he only visited the South once.
Although Steven Foster is considered the Father of American Song, his life was a train wreck.
Foster came from a family of 10, count em 10 children. These were simple middle-class people who somehow managed to send their children to school and consequently, Steven knew many schoolmates from the upper crust of society. Foster never found his musical fortune during his life. Back then songwriters didn’t make much if anything from their songs and though he tried to make a go of at in New York City his efforts proved to be fruitless until his wife finally had enough and moved out with his daughter. For his time he was a bum who failed to provide for his family. His brother, on the other hand, ended up owning a steamboat company.
This man had a pretty sad life and yet his memory will live on long after the rest of us have turned into dust. During his time one of his songs “Oh, Susanna” actually became the theme of the California Gold Rush (apparently they needed theme music back then). Even though the entire nation during his own time on earth knew many of his songs as their favorites, he died a pauper. He had been ill and lost his balance and when he fell he managed to slice his neck open. A man who he wrote songs with found him laying in a pool of blood and he died 3 days later. Steven Foster was 38 years old when he died.
In April 2018 a statue of Foster was removed from a park in Pittsburgh to be retired to storage and be replaced by a statue of an undetermined Black woman.
Stephen Collins Foster (July 4, 1826 – January 13, 1864)
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