Monday, July 02, 2012

Music Monday ~ Born on 4th July: Stephen Foster

USA's birthday, 4 July, will be celebrated on Wednesday. Music Monday this week ought to feature an appropriate subject. A songwriter born on 4 July ought to fit the bill. Wikipedia tells that he is known as the "father of American music", was the pre-eminent songwriter in the United States of the 19th century.

Stephen Foster, born on 4 July 1826 in in Lawrenceville, east of Pittsburgh, a politically and socially prominent family. His father, William Barclay Foster, was a member of the Pennsylvania State Legislature and the mayor of Allegheny City, a Pittsburgh suburb. Stephen was the youngest of eleven (some sources say 10) children. He began writing songs while in his teens, began selling them in his twenties, his first big success came with Oh! Susanna.

From Songwriters' Hall of Fame website:
A melodic genius with tender, sympathetic lyrics and infectious rhythm, Stephen Foster is often credited as "America's First Composer" and widely regarded as one of the first who made professional songwriting profitable. Fosters' songs were the first genuinely American in theme, characterizing love of home, American temperament, river life and work, politics, battlefields, slavery and plantation life.

A self-taught musician, his poems and melodies were written in a simple manner with little musical embellishment or complexity. His work mirrored a kind, modest and sympathetic personality. In a sentimental style inspired by the simplicity of southern plantation music, Foster wrote such songs as "Old Folks At Home", "My Old Kentucky Home", "Oh! Susana" and "Old Black Joe". These songs, and many others from the Foster catalog, brought recognition and validity to Negro songs.

A public sculpture by Giuseppe Moretti honoring Stephen Foster and commemorating his song "Uncle Ned" stands near to the Stephen Foster Memorial in Pittsburgh. Controversy has wrangled, through the years, over the depiction of "a slave" playing the banjo at Foster's feet. On first seeing a photograph of the sculpture I didn't see a slave, I saw a man playing a banjo, and I'd bet playing it well - I like to think that's exactly what Mr Foster would see too.

From a piece at the website of the Center for American Music at the Pittsburgh University
Rather than writing nostalgically for an old South (it was, after all, the present day for him), or trivializing the hardships of slavery, Foster sought to humanize the characters in his songs, to have them care for one another, and to convey a sense that all people--regardless of their ethnic identities or social and economic class--share the same longings and needs for family and home. He instructed white performers of his songs not to mock slaves but to get their audiences to feel compassion for them........................

With Sun, Moon and Mercury all in sentimental, home-loving Cancer, how astrologically appropriate become the highlighted remarks in the above extracts from biographies of Foster!

Neptune (creativity, but also addiction) exactly opposing his natal Sun from Capricorn could reflect alcoholism. Foster did, indeed, become dependent on alcohol.

Stephen Foster died in 1864, aged 37, during a persistent fever. He had accidentally fallen against a washbasin, shattering it and gouging his head. He died practically penniless with, it is reported, 38 cents in his pocket and a scrap of paper, a few words written in pencil : "dear friends and gentle hearts."

In today's world, protected by copyright law, he'd have been worth millions of dollars, but in those days he received no compensation when others arranged his songs, or printed and published them. His last great song Beautiful Dreamer was written two weeks before he died.

Showing off the charming melody and lyrics of Beautiful Dreamer to perfection: Marty Robbins followed by a piano version by Phil Coulter:

and....a rather unexpected rendition by The Beatles, at The Cavern in Liverpool, long ago:

Johnny Cash and James Taylor with Foster's first hit,
Oh! Susannah


anyjazz said...

Good post, tws. I'm impressed.

Twilight said...

Thanks muchly aj. :-)

Wisewebwoman said...

I was bred and buttered T, on the songs of Stephen Foster. Very popular at the many sing-songs I was at as a child (now, except in rare cases, such a thing of the past).

Hard Times remains one of my all time favourites and sounds most wonderful in female harmony.

Here is a lovely one:


DC said...

I couldn't help but notice the unfavorable square of Neptune and Pluto....Pluto in Aries could indicate a death thru a head injury in this aspect? ..just a thought.

Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~~ I remember sing-songs with parents, grandparents and other loved ones in years long gone - loved them. I have some old reel-to-reel tapes (nothing to play 'em on) and a casette tape of some of them that I can play, but can't bear to listen. Too painful, even now so long after.

Thanks for the link - lovely,lovely!

Twilight said...

DC ~~ Thanks - yes you're right!
There's a Yod with Pluto at its apex too. Mars/Jupiter sextile, highlighting that Aries Pluto again.