Ken Emerson's thickly textured narrative features an affectionate examination of American music's diverse strands as well as a perceptive portrait of the nation's first great songwriter. Stephen Foster (1826-64) was born in Pittsburgh and visited the South only briefly, yet songs like "My Old Kentucky Home" and "Oh! Susanna" drew on black Southern culture to create a uniquely American form of popular music. The author is clear-sighted about the complex blend of racism and genuine compassion that infused Foster's "blackface" compositions.
From Library Journal
Stephen Foster might be considered America's first professional composer. His songs include "Oh! Susanna," "Old Folks at Home," and "Old Black Joe," tunes so enduring that they are sometimes considered folk songs. Yet Foster died penniless and didn't help his case for posterity by frequently selling all the rights to his songs, or worse, in the case of "Old Folks at Home," being so foolish as to sell the credit for the song to E.P. Christy for a pittance. Nonetheless, Foster's musical creations have influenced musicians as diverse as Antonin Dvorak, Charles Ives, and Al Jolson. Emerson, an editor at the New York Times Magazine, endeavors in this well-researched and -documented book to reveal the man behind the music. Emerson discusses Foster's life and music (with emphasis on the lyrics) within the context of the events and personalities of the era. The book goes a long way towards dispelling the myths that have surrounded the composer. Recommended for both public and academic libraries.?Michael Colby, Univ. of California, Davis
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