A Stephen Foster Treasury
Ring, Ring de Banjo
Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair
Stephen Collins Foster is the most important American songwriter of the nineteenth century as well as one of history’s great melodists. His inspired tunes stand so strongly on their own that they can be appreciated just as easily by someone whistling them as in the seemingly endless settings they’ve engendered.
Foster himself led a life of suffering. Pain permeates his output. His father became an alcoholic; his wife and daughter deserted him. He tried to make a living as a composer, but realized little income from his work. He died young with literally pennies to his name. In addition to salon music, Foster loved minstrel songs, although he felt strongly that these songs, to quote him, should not be “trashy.” He addressed racial issues directly, with dignity and respect for both slave and master. He frequently used Negro dialect in his words, most of which he wrote himself.
Oh! Susanna was composed in 1848, Beautiful Dreamer in 1863, Ring, Ring de Banjo in 1851, Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair in 1854, and Camptown Races in 1850. The essential tunes used here are based on early published sources and, presumably, are as Foster intended.