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Monday, November 7, 2016

STEPHEN FOSTER: America's Greatest Composer?

Be patriotic, vote tomorrow.  While we're at this, can you name me a true song from early America?
Then came the pioneer that changed everything.  Controversial, and with a sad ending,  Stephen Foster, born near Pittsburgh in 1826, was the ninth of ten children and lived an upscale life.  At 24 he launched a professional career as a songwriter, and on a delayed honeymoon in 1852 took his only trip to the deep south on a river steamship.  During this period of black-face minstrelsy, he attempted to reform the genre and stressed compassion, ethnic identity and longing for family and home.

Pittsburgh was the center for abolitionist (anti-slavery) activities, and Foster was close to these crusaders.  He was meticulous and was among the first to sign contracts with publishers.  However, there was no music business as we know it today, for sound recording was not invented until 13 years after his death and radio 66 years later.  The only way he actually made money was a 5-10% royalty on sheet music sales or through outright selling of songs.

He wrote more than 200 songs, including:
He died at the age of 37 in a Bowery hotel with 38 cents in Civil War scrips and 3 cents, plus a note in his pocket saying  "Dear friends and gentle hearts."  In 1949 Bob Hilliard wrote the popular Dear Hearts and Gentle People.  On the University of Pittsburgh campus is the Stephen Foster Memorial.

The closest movie about his life was Swanee River in 1940, with Don Ameche and Al Jolson.  You would have thought they would have found a better title, for Swanee was written by George Gershwin.

There was no one like Stephen Foster before.  He was America's first composer, and maybe the foremost.

To end, here are the presidential election popular votes as a percentage of the total U.S. population:


However, as the % of voting age population, the figure had a recent low of 49% in 1996 and highs just above 60% in the 1960/4/8 cycle.  In 2012?  55%.  Worst state?  Hawaii, at 48.8%.  Want to know why?  Click here.

Voter participation in the early years was less than 5%.  After 1924 women were allowed to vote.  Regarding OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, the U.S. is near the bottom with Australia, Switzerland, Chile, Latvia, Japan, Poland, Estonia and Slovenia.  At the top are Belgium at 89%, Turkey 84% and Sweden 83%.

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