Stephen Foster Day in the United States

Stephen Foster, American songwriter, is remembered on January 13, the day of his death in 1864.  Morbid as it seems, upon researching this man’s life and death, it seems oddly appropriate.  Although respectful of the more civilized parlor songs of the day, he loved minstrel music and blended the two genres to write some of his best-known work.

Foster attempted to make a living as a professional songwriter and may be considered innovative in this respect, since this field did not yet exist in the modern sense. Due in part to the limited scope of music copyright and composer royalties at the time, Foster realized very little profits from his works. He received $100 ($3,204 in 2022 dollars) for Oh, Susanna.

Foster moved to New York City in 1860. About a year later, his wife and daughter left him and returned to Pittsburgh. Beginning in 1862, his fortunes decreased, and as they did, so did the quality of his new songs. Stephen Foster became impoverished while living in New York. He developed a fever, and when he tried to call for help, he fell against a washbasin and gouged his head.  After three hours, he was taken to Bellevue Hospital where he died three days later. 

His worn leather wallet contained a scrap of paper that simply said, “Dear friends and gentle hearts,” and 37 cents in Civil War script, one for each year of his life. This small message inspired the lovely song, Three Bells for Stephen, by American country songwriter Mickey Newbury.

Disclaimer: The information on this website is accurate to the best of my knowledge at the time of writing. I make no guarantee as to its accuracy. Its purpose is to inform, educate, amuse, and raise awareness about causes and opportunities around the globe. I also encourage civil debate in the comments.

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