The Life and Songs of Stephen Foster offers an engaging reassessment of the life, politics, and legacy of the misunderstood father of American music. Once revered the world over, Foster’s plantation songs, like “Old Folks at Home” and “My Old Kentucky Home,” fell from grace in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement due to their controversial lyrics. Foster embraced the minstrel tradition for a brief time, refining it and infusing his songs with sympathy for slaves, before abandoning the genre for respectable parlor music. The youngest child in a large family, he grew up in the shadows of a successful older brother and his president brother-in-law, James Buchanan, and walked a fine line between the family’s conservative politics and his own pro-Lincoln sentiments. Foster lived most of his life just outside of industrial, smoke-filled Pittsburgh and wrote songs set in a pastoral South—unsullied by the grime of industry but tarnished by the injustice of slavery.
JoAnne O’Connell has a background in history and classical vocal music. She earned her PhD at the University of Pittsburgh where she began researching her revisionist biography of the Pittsburgh born composer Stephen Collins Foster. She has taught at colleges and universities in Pennsylvania and Maryland, and currently spends her time researching and writing.
Description courtesy of Rowman & Littlefield.