Biography of American Songwriter Stephen Collins Foster Part 2

About the famous American songwriter Stephen Collins Foster, history and biography of the author of numerous hit songs including Beautiful Dreamer and Oh, Susanna.




So ingenuous was Stephen in business matters, so unambitious, that he agreed to let Christy take credit for authorship of "Swanee River" and other songs, for which the famed blackface entertainer paid him a paltry $15. He later amended this foolish arrangement, meanwhile earning several thousand dollars in royalties through his contract with a New York publishing house.

Solvent enough now to brave a proposal of marriage, Stephen asked for the hand of Jane McDowell, a beautiful auburn-haired girl whom he later immortalized in "Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair." The marriage was an ill-starred one, for Jane was the antithesis of her husband and unreceptive to his way of life and his choice of a musical career. When their daughter was born, they left Pittsburgh for New York, where he provided for his family well enough at first. During this period he wrote "Old Dog Tray" (inspired by his own setter) and some of his most heartfelt Negro compositions: "Massa's in de Cold, Cold Ground" (1852), "My Old Kentucky Home" (1853), and "Old Black Joe" (1860, based on an old family retainer he met when courting Jane). But twice his wife left him, and he became more and more dissatisfied with himself.

In 1861 he was alone and ill in New York. The members of his family were dead or scattered. With his mother's death he had lost his sustainer and his refuge, the home in Pittsburgh where he fled when he was homesick. His popularity had crested and ebbed, and he had been defrauded of most of his royalties. Destitute, he drank too much and ate too little. A fainting spell in his wretched room on the Bowery proved fatal, and he died a pauper in Bellevue Hospital.

Stephen Foster's last work was "Beautiful Dreamer," a title that epitomizes his character. In the world to which he escaped in his fancies, he composed simple, unpretentious songs with a sincerity and feeling that touched the hearts of people the world over.

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