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Doo-dah!: Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture Hardcover – May 7, 1997


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (May 7, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684810107
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684810102
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #251,627 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By THX1138b on March 5, 2011
Format: Paperback
Though I could not have imagined reading and enjoying a book about the composer of O'Susanna and Old Kentucky Home, I've read this book twice and I could not disagree more with the reviewer who commented that Emerson "goes on for page after page" about what Foster did, said and when. It is after all a biography. In fact there is much more going on in Ken Emerson`s narrative than the serial reporting of SF did, as the title clearly indicates: the rise of American popular culture. Ken Emerson explores the world of music around Foster. The polite music of the parlor, the raucous humor of the traveling show and the bizarre contradiction of black-face and minstrelsy (with considerable insight into that particular chapter of our nation's cultural history).

Emerson has the ability to bring this world to life, to unthread its tangled history, show Foster's contribution and how this melting pot of music and performance led straight to ragtime, jazz, Elvis and the Rolling Stones (not to mention his direct and lasting contribution to folk and bluegrass). He does this with clear headed analysis and more than a little humor ("Ice Cream and the Annihilation of Space and Time!") making this book a delight and an eye opening read. A critical reader will take issue with some of his analyses of particular songs and probably his thoughts on the development of the music. Good! It's the kind of book that should generate debate of those points. But if you have ever wondered how the odd lyrics to Oh Susanna came about and what they might mean, you will certainly enjoy reading Emerson's take on it.

If the story falls flat to some ears it is probably because of the plodding years of Stephen Foster's slow decline and the lack of reliable primary and even secondary sources for the later years.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By James on July 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the definitive biography of this great American songwriter, Stephen Foster. Although the specific details about much of his life have been lost to history, the author reconstructs as much as is possible, putting Foster's life in the context of what was happening culturally in the U.S. at the decade before the Civil War. Lots of details about the great songs Foster wrote! Highly recommended!!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A WELL WRITTEN AND INTERESTING BOOK TO THE MAN WHO DEVOTED HIS LIFE TO MAKING TRUE AMERICAN MUSIC FULL TIME. THOUGH AN ALCOHOLIC, FOSTER WROTE MANY CLASSIC AMERICAN TUNES FAMILIAR TO US ALL.
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By Musicman Bob on February 22, 2015
Format: Paperback
The best overview of Foster I've ever seen. I based a program on this book.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Busy Reader: Get To The Point on July 12, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I recommend this book if you want lots of information on popular music in America during the 19th Century. I can't recommend it as a biography of Stephen Foster.

I was interested in the life story of Stephen Foster. Apparently, the author was more interested in the social and musical forces at play during Foster's lifetime. These are important to the story, to be sure, and the subtitle mentions them. However, it would be more honest to place Stephen Foster's name in the subtitle last, not first, as he does not occupy the center of interest in this book.

Here's what you get: Stephen Foster is born. Twenty pages about blackface minstrel show music, including lyrics, musician biographies, sales receipts. Stephen Foster goes to school. Thirty pages on how much actual African-American melody and lyric made it into the minstrel shows. Stephen Foster gets married. Forty pages on the build-up to the Civil War. It's very difficult to go back and find the pages that talk about Stephen Foster! I found out almost as much about Frederick Douglass.

This book reminded me of a long biography I read on Elvis Presley. In both books, a white musician was influenced--directly and indirectly--by the music of African Americans. For some reason, this phenomenon merits endless analysis. Again, it's an important point in both cases, but I think we do artists a disservice if we over-analyze their influences. At some point, I appreciate Stephen Foster's music for itself, as he wrote it. I credit him with crafting it, and I'd like to know more about the man, less about the century.
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