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Ch. 05: The Importance of Stephen Foster (Demo) - AmPopMusic

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Ch. 05: The Importance of Stephen Foster (Demo)

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The musical genius of Stephen Foster was in his ability to craft a melody and make a song that was accessible to the public. Certainly, much of this was an innate talent, but the exposure to several styles of music in his early years helped shape his musical thinking. The early studies of classical musicians like Mozart and Beethoven was important; so also was his exposure to the crop of syrup ballads in the 1830s and ’40s.

But perhaps the most influential musical source was the performances of free African-American entertainers in variety stage performances called minstrel shows. The minstrel songs Stephen Foster heard while in his early years shaped his thinking about creating melodies that appealed to the public. Later, songs like “Oh Susanna” and “Camptown Races” were patterned after the syncopated rhythms of the minstrel shows.

But, far from being racially prejudiced, Foster had great respect for African-Americans. One of his best friends from Pittsburgh was a leading abolitionist leader and publisher. Foster’s songs went beyond the simplistic caricature of black performers and acknowledged the emotions and depth of feeling they possessed. One such song, “Nelly Was a Lady” (1849) was a lament of a black man for his deceased wife. It was the first example of a white composer writing a song for a white audience about the deep love between a black man and woman. In it, Foster repeatedly referred to the man’s wife as a “lady,” which in the past had been a term reserved for well-bred white women. His respect for African-Americans must be understood as part of his minstrel songs.

Although known primarily as a song writer, Foster did compose for other instruments, primarily the piano. One collection of 73 songs arranged for piano, violin, flute, and other instruments netted him only $150, a paltry sum for all his effort.

Early Foster songs followed the ballad pattern with some parlor songs and minstrel songs mixed in. In the last two years of his life, he collaborated with a lyricist gifted in writing novelty verse, suitable for the musical theatre shows. Lighthearted songs like “If You’ve Only Got a Mustache” and “There Are Plenty of Fish in the Sea” masked the personal anxiety and pain that the composer was experiencing.

In spite of the impact that he had on American popular music, Stephen Foster’s lifetime earnings for his music was barely $15,000, an average of just over $1,300 a year. If today’s copyright laws, royalty payments and performance fees had been in affect, Foster would have been America’s first musical millionaire.

Stephen Foster’s unique ability to craft melodies and lyrics that were sensuous without being silly, energetic without being giddy, and emotional without being sentimental brought popular music in America into the modern era. The tremendous financial success of his songs moved the music publishing industry to a new level of importance. His treatment of the parlor song form helped prepare the stage for the Tin Pan Alley songs of the early 1900s. Finally, his incorporation of the rhythmic syncopation of minstrel songs into popular music paved the way for the evolution of ragtime and the appearance of Scott Joplin.

In his simplicity, Foster was great. Because of his limited musical training, his natural, simple melodies were unencumbered by over-ornamentation. There is no doubt that the modern era of American popular music began with Stephen Foster, the “Father of American Popular Music.”

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    An Overview

    Ch. 1: Understanding Pitch

    Ch. 2: Understanding Musical Pulse

    Ch. 3: Understanding Volume

    Ch. 4: Understanding Tone

    Ch. 5: Understanding Melody

    Ch. 6: Understanding Harmony

    Ch. 7: Understanding Rhythm

    Ch. 8: Understanding Bass

    Ch. 9: Understanding Countermelody

    Ch. 10: Understanding Structure

    Ch. 11: Understanding Instrumentation

    Ch. 12: Understanding Tempo

    An Overview

    Ch. 1: 19th Century: Pre-Foster

    Ch. 2: Folk Music by the People

    Ch. 3: Popular Music in its Infancy

    Ch. 4: Stephen Foster – “Father of American Popular Music”

    Ch. 5: The Importance of Stephen Foster

    Ch. 6: Scott Joplin – “King of Ragtime”

    Ch. 7: The Player Piano – Automated Music

    Ch. 8: John Philip Sousa – “The March King”

    Ch. 9: John Philip Sousa – Recording Artist and Activist

    An Overview

    Ch. 1: John Lomax – Recording American Roots Music

    Ch. 2: Woody Guthrie – “Father of Modern American Folk Music”

    Ch. 3: Leadbelly & Pete Seeger: End of the First Wave

    Ch. 4: The Kingston Trio – Beginning of the Second Wave

    Ch. 5: Joan Baez – “First Lady of Folk Music”

    Ch. 6: Peter, Paul & Mary – Balancing the Message

    Ch. 7: Robert Zimmerman – The Beginning of an American Icon

    Ch. 8: Dylan in New York City

    Ch. 9: Dylan after Newport

    Ch. 10: The Importance of Dylan

    Ch. 11: Folk Music in the 21st Century

    An Overview

    Ch. 1: The Roots of Country

    Ch. 2: Bristol Beginnings

    Ch. 3: The Grand Ole Opry

    Ch. 4: Cowboys and the Movies

    Ch. 5: Western Swing

    Ch. 6: Bluegrass: Hillbilly on Caffeine

    Ch. 7: Honky-tonk: Merging Two into One

    Ch. 8: The Nashville Sound: Country-Pop

    Ch. 9: Rockabilly – Country meets R&B

    Ch. 10: Country Feminists Find Their Voice

    Ch. 11: The Bakersfield Sound

    Ch. 12: Austin “Outlaw” Country

    Ch. 13: Neo-Traditionalists at the end of the 20th Century

    Ch. 14: Mainstreaming Country in the ‘90s

    Ch. 15: Redesigning Country in the 21st Century

    An Overview

    Ch. 1: What is Jazz?

    Ch. 2: Before It Was Jazz

    Ch. 3: Jazz is Born!

    Ch. 4: Early Jazz Musicians

    Ch. 5: Louis Armstrong

    Ch. 6: Chicago and Harlem – Hub of 1920s Jazz

    Ch. 7: Big Band – Jazz Swing!

    Ch. 8: Big Band Musicians and Singers

    Ch. 9: Jump Blues and Bop

    Ch. 10: Cool Jazz

    Ch. 11: Hard Bop

    Ch. 12: Free Jazz – Breaking the Rules

    Ch. 13: Fusion – The Jazz-Rock-Funk Experience

    Ch. 14: Third Stream and World Jazz

    Ch. 15: New Age & Smooth Jazz

    Ch. 16: Summary – Jazz Lives!

    An Overview

    Ch. 1: Blues – The Granddaddy of American Popular Music

    Ch. 2: Where Did the Blues Come From?

    Ch. 3: What Are the Blues?

    Ch. 4: How to Build the Blues

    Ch. 5: Classic Blues – The Early Years

    Ch. 6: Delta Blues – Authentic Beginnings

    Ch. 7: Blues in the City – Migration and Power

    Ch. 8: Blues in Britain – Redefining the Masters

    Ch. 9: Contemporary Blues – Maturity and Respect

    Ch. 10: The Relevancy of the Blues Today

    Ch. 1: Timelines, Cultures & Technology

    Ch. 2: Pre-Rock Influences

    Ch. 3: Rock is Born!

    Ch. 4: Rock is Named

    Ch. 5: Doo-Wop

    Ch. 6: Independent Record Labels

    Ch. 7: Technology Shapes Rock ‘n’ Roll

    Ch. 8: The Plan to Mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll

    Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal

    Ch. 1: Crafting Sound in the Studio/Producers and Hit Songs

    Ch. 2: West Coast Sound: Beach, Surf, and Teens

    Ch. 3: The British Invasion: Two Prongs – Pop & Blues

    Ch. 4: Motown and the Development of a Black Pop-Rock Sound

    Ch. 5: Soul Music: Gospel and R&B in the Deep South

    Ch. 6: The Sounds of Bubble Gum Pop-Rock

    Ch. 7: The Arrival of Folk-Rock

    Ch. 8: Psychedelic Rock ‘n’ Roll

    Ch. 9: Early Guitar Gods of Rock

    Ch. 10: Rock Festivals: The Rise and Fall of Music, Peace, and Love

    Ch. 11: Anti-Woodstock and Shock Rock Movements

    Ch. 1: Technological Breakthroughs

    Ch. 2: Electronic Dance Music

    Ch. 3: Hip-Hop & Rap – An Introduction

    Ch. 4: The Beginnings of Rap

    Ch. 5: Old School Rap – Up From the Streets

    Ch. 6: Rap’s Golden Age

    Ch. 7: East Coast – Political Rap

    Ch. 8: West Coast – Gangsta Rap

    Ch. 9: The Fragmentation of Rap – Pop, Party & More

    Ch. 10: Further Fragmentation – Different Directions

    Ch. 11: The Importance of Rap

    Ch. 1: Musical Stage Productions in America before the 1800s

    Ch. 2: Minstrel Shows and Melodramas

    Ch. 3: Stage Presentations in the Late 19th Century

    Ch. 4: Early 20th Century: Revues and Operettas

    Ch. 5: The Arrival of the Modern American Musical

    Ch. 6: Great Partnerships in Book-Musicals

    Ch. 7: Musical Theatre Composers in the mid-Century

    Ch. 8: Fresh Voices on the Stage in the 1960s

    Ch. 9: Two Dominant Forces at the End of the Century

    Ch. 10: New Voices at the End of the Century

    Ch. 11: New Voices, New Sounds in the New Century

    Ch. 12: Musical Theatre Glossary

    Ch. 13: Is it “Theatre” or “Theater”?

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