Stephen Foster, born in Pennsylvania, was a songwriter in the 19th century. His first big hit was Oh! Susanna. He was also known as the composer of "Camptown Races" and the state anthems of Florida and Kentucky. He was born on July 4, 1826 and died on January 13, 1864.
Although his songs were very popular, the system of royalties that are in place today didn't exist in the same form back then. He died penniless.
His output encompassed two distinct types of song.
- The first is the drawing room ballad or salon song; to be performed in (wait for it) the salon or drawing room. It was (and usually still is) sung by a trained "classical" singer with piano or chamber group accompaniment. Songs of this type include Beautiful Dreamer, Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair, and other melodic pieces, which are sometimes saccharine, but rarely without merit.
- His other is the"minstrel song", usually performed in a far more raucous venue with banjos to the fore and the obligatory white faces blackened to suit the occasion. As well as Oh! Susannah and Camptown Races mentioned above, popular ones are Nelly Bly, Swannee River, Old Black Joe and My Old Kentucky Home.
He did however, write far more than that.