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American Composers and Musicians from A to Z: F (Part 1-Foster, Stephen Collins)

Hard Times Come Again No More! American Composers, Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864)

I am happy that we are focusing on American composers as a blog cycle; there are always new discoveries and new things to learn about our unique country’s history. And sometimes, if you want to understand an atmosphere of a specific era, look to the arts and see how things were being expressed.

One of the special circumstances of our country’s development is how we have embraced and shared folk tunes and melodies.  Rural communities in particular appreciated a folk singer passing through their town and presenting them with the latest popular song; a strolling Billboard Top 100, if you will.

Stephen C. Foster filled this spot perfectly.  He was (surprisingly) self-taught, and kept his ears open by listening to melodies from the newly arrived immigrants of the Irish, German and Italian communities.  What a wonderful trio of influences.

Stephen Collins Foster

Working with minstrel shows, he produced many standards still sung today such as “Old Folks at Home” and, inspired by his bride, Jane Denny McDowell, “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair.”  And I can’t even imagine the Kentucky Derby taking place without everyone in the stands singing “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Unfortunately, his personal life and later years unraveled with alcoholism and financial problems, due to the lack of copyright protection for his songs.  That seems unbelievable in the current era, but sadly many creative artists were taken advantage of by publishers and other scoundrels.

The NLS Music Section has “Jeanie” at BRM 24313 (line by line and bar by bar formats) and BRM 10858 (choral arrangement, SATB, section-by-section.) “Beautiful Dreamer” is available on BARD at BRM 04156, (voice and piano, paragraph format.) A major source of Foster’s output can be located at “Stephen Foster Song Book: Original Sheet Music of 40 Songs” in four volumes for voice and piano at BRM 29741.

In digital audio format, we can offer “Beautiful Dreamer” at DBM 00930 and “The Foster Nobody Knows” at DBM 00988.

I was recently listening to one of my favorite folk singers, James Taylor and heard “Hard Times Come Again No More.” I couldn’t agree more with the title and sentiment and wondered, “Who wrote that song?”  None other than Stephen C. Foster, reaching across generations.


American Composers and Musicians from A to Z: E (Part 2 – Eyck, Jacob van)

This week we’ll break with our series a bit to discuss the life of a blind musician from outside of the United States. Had someone mentioned a composer named van Eyck to me when I was a child, I might have guessed that he was born before or during World War II. When I heard […]

Nashville Sound: Hargus “Pig” Robbins

Hargus “Pig” Robbins might be the most famous piano player you’ve never heard of, though you’ve likely heard his work. The National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals will begin in a matter of days in Nashville, Tennessee, so today I want to tell you about a musician who is blind and […]

American Composers and Musicians from A to Z: E (Part 1 – Ellington, Duke)

Continuing our series of American composers from A to Z, we come to the letter E. Personally, I can think of no better example than Duke Ellington. I consider him to be one of the first great quintessential “American” composers of his time, who wrote music in a true American idiom, rather than copying Western […]

Carnegie Hall of the South: Nashville’s Musical Legacy, Part 2

This is the second half of a two-part post on Nashville’s musical history and related books in the NLS Music Collection. Read the first part here: Athens of the South: Nashville’s Musical Legacy, Part 1. Nashville’s most famous music venue, the Ryman Auditorium, was completed in 1892 and was originally a church called the Union […]

Athens of the South: Nashville’s Musical Legacy, Part 1

Here in the Music Section of the National Library Service we are counting down the days until the National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals begins next month in Music City, Nashville, Tennessee! As I mentioned in my last article, I’ve been taking the opportunity to learn about the musical history of […]

Bernstein at 100

When I was in grade school, our chorus teacher let us hear a record called What Is Jazz (DBM00704), where tone color, blue notes, syncopation, and other aspects of jazz were described by a man named Leonard Bernstein (I assumed that he was a jazz piano player). By sixth grade I was listening to classical music […]

American Composers and Musicians from A to Z: D (Part 2 – Davis, “Blind” John and Dranes, Arizona)

Blind John Davis Blind John Davis was born in Mississippi in 1913, but moved to Chicago with his family at a young age.  He lost his sight shortly thereafter at age 9. He began to learn the piano as a teen, and later became a regular session musician for famous blues record producer Lester Melrose […]

Music City 101: NLS Heads to Nashville!

Last month country music legend Dolly Parton joined Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden in a presentation to celebrate the achievements of Parton’s book-gifting organization (video of the event available here). They announced that the Library of Congress Young Readers Center is partnering with Parton’s charity to provide a special series of story time events. […]

American Composers and Musicians from A to Z: D (Part 1 – Dello Joio, Norman)

Norman Dello Joio (born Nicodemo DeGioio) was born in New York City in January 1913. His father and grandfather had been church musicians, and Norman was set to follow their footsteps, as he became the organist and choir director at age 14. When he was 26, he received a scholarship to attend Julliard, where he […]