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Unformatted text preview: The story of popular music begins with Stephen Collins Foster, the first commercially successful songwriter in American history. Foster began writing songs professionally in 1844 and became a full-time songwriter five years later. Although Foster never became rich from the proceeds of his songwriting, hundreds of thousands of copies of his songs were published as sheet music during his lifetime, while millions more were sold in the years after his death. His songs reflected values that people of different backgrounds and social standing were able to embrace and see as their own, which made them popular on a scale never before known in the United States. Foster songs like Beautiful Dreamer, Old Folks At Home (Swanee River), Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair, and dozens of others have become so ingrained in our culture that most people now think of them as folk tunes rather than songs written by a commercial songwriter for the popular market. Stephen Foster was the first American to explore the potentials and possibilities that were present in popular songwriting and, in the process, virtually invented popular music as we know it. Stephen Collins Foster was born in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, a community to the east of Pittsburgh, on the 4th of July 1826. He received some formal musical training in his youth and began to write songs as a teenager. His first published song, Open Thy Lattice, Love, appeared when he was only 18. At the age of 20, he went to work as a bookkeeper in Cincinnati, but continued to write and publish songs. By the time he was 24, he had 12 songs in print including Oh! Susanna, which was an enormous hit and became an American classic. In 1849, Foster abandoned his bookkeeping career, signed a contract with the publishing firm of Firth, Pond, & Company, and began to pursue songwriting as a profession. Stephen Foster wrote 286 musical works during his lifetime including 156 popular songs, 27 hymns, and assorted instrumental pieces. Although he wrote in a variety of popular genres, the Fosters fame came from sentimental ballads, like Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair, and Ethiopian songs written for minstrel show companies. His minstrel show tunes (also called plantation melodies) were wildly successful and included Oh! Susanna, De Camptown Races, Old Folks At Home (Swanee River), My Old Kentucky Home, Old Black Joe, and Massas In De Cold Ground. Foster understood that the audience for popular songs wanted simple but catchy tunes that could be learned and mastered by almost anyone. As a result, Fosters songs were clever, terribly appealing, memorable, and written for an audience with only marginal musical skills and training. Still, these simple songs gave those who played and sang them a sense of musical accomplishment that was terribly important and, in turn, made those songs exceptionally marketable. His first hit, Oh! Susanna,Oh!...
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