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Stephen Foster - How original was he?

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Ewan McV 23 Aug 98 - 09:51 AM
Ralph Butts 23 Aug 98 - 10:17 AM
Ewan McV 23 Aug 98 - 03:53 PM
Chet W. 23 Aug 98 - 05:01 PM
Ewan McV 25 Aug 98 - 03:43 AM
Pete Peterson 26 Aug 98 - 08:29 PM
Philip Hudson 27 Aug 98 - 03:17 AM
Barry Finn 27 Aug 98 - 05:57 PM
Murray on Saltspring 27 Aug 98 - 11:40 PM
Jon W. 28 Aug 98 - 10:51 AM
Bert 28 Aug 98 - 02:56 PM
Ewan McV 03 Sep 98 - 07:56 AM
Jerry Bryant 03 Sep 98 - 04:44 PM
Cindy Harris 04 Sep 98 - 11:52 AM
Bert 04 Sep 98 - 04:21 PM
gargoyle 05 Sep 98 - 02:27 PM
Jim McLean 09 Aug 11 - 07:18 AM
mayomick 11 Feb 12 - 09:17 PM
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Subject: Stephen Foster - How original was he?
From: Ewan McV
Date: 23 Aug 98 - 09:51 AM

I'm working on the origins etc of children's songs - some of them are sometimes called jumprope songs. I have some old Scottish versions which relate to verses from songs credited to Stephen Foster:

Oh Suzanna "Away down east, away down west, away down Alabama The prettiest girl I ever saw, her name was Suzyanna"

and Campdown Races "I came tae a river and ah couldny get across Ah peyed ten bob for a scabby auld horse etc"

I've a notion that in former unstructured reading I came across statements that Foster rewrote at times from the oral tradition, but I cannot recall where or what. Maybe in G Leman's The Horn Book?

Can anyone help?


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Subject: RE: Stephen Foster - How original was he?
From: Ralph Butts
Date: 23 Aug 98 - 10:17 AM

Ewan....

This excerpt is from "A Treasury of Stephen Foster", Random House, 1946.

"Stephen Foster achieved a truly American expression. Born and bred in Pittsburgh, he was not influenced by the foreign music that enslaved the composers who lived in the more cosmopolitan seaboard cities. The voices Stephen heard were those of the minstrel shows, the singing and dancing of Negroes on the wharves of the Ohio River, and the sentimental songs of mid-century that were carried through the country by the "singing family" troupes, and were sung by demure young ladies who played the accompaniments on square pianos covered with brocade and lace."

Definitely supports your views that he wrote from the oral tradition. He would certainly have been exposed to the lines you mentioned above.

I'd say he was "original" as an arranger and publisher - no doubt, many of his songs are largely his own, but it's an interesting research question.

.....Tiger


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Subject: RE: Stephen Foster - How original was he?
From: Ewan McV
Date: 23 Aug 98 - 03:53 PM

Ralph

Thanks indeed for the very helpful quote. Having posted my thread and switched the machine off, I turned to my pile of books wishing that I had not taken The Horn Book by Gerald Legman back to the Edinburgh University Library 10 days ago. Then I noticed the volume lying there, and remembered that although I took it to the library, the library was shut for internal work!

Legman says "Stephen Foster cribbed and copyrighted a Negro folksong in 1850, and collected royalties on it for years under the name of 'The Camptown Races'."

Mind you, that proves nothing - Legman often just plain wrong in The Horn Book. (But don't please tell him I said so - if he's still living he must be more ferocious even than he is in the book.)

Thanks again

Ewan


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Subject: RE: Stephen Foster - How original was he?
From: Chet W.
Date: 23 Aug 98 - 05:01 PM

Nothing against SF. I had heard that his song Hard Times Come Again No More was a version of a hymn he must have heard at chuch with his black nanny. Maybe the song would have been lost without him. Glad it wasnt lost.

Chet W.


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Subject: RE: Stephen Foster - How original was he?
From: Ewan McV
Date: 25 Aug 98 - 03:43 AM

To Chet W

I agree. All songwriters work off some kind of tradition, anyway.

Ewan


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Subject: RE: Stephen Foster - How original was he?
From: Pete Peterson
Date: 26 Aug 98 - 08:29 PM

I have nothing concrete to add to this question except to say that finding songs in oral tradition around the time of Foster does NOT prove they antedate Foster. . . kinda like when Patrick Gilmore "wrote" When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again-- and 100 years later the Clancy Bros were singing Johnny I hardly knew ye-- but there were no written records on which to prove which came first! never did see that one get settled either! it comes to the Scottish verdict, "Not proven" Pete


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Subject: RE: Stephen Foster - How original was he?
From: Philip Hudson
Date: 27 Aug 98 - 03:17 AM

Borrowing goes on in song writing all the time. Compare Foster's "Ring, ring the banjo" with the much later song from the Wizzard of Oz which I think is named, "The Merry Old Land of Oz". They are pretty close in places. I once wrote a tune to R. L. Stevenson's poem, "The Friendly Cow", for my children. Years later, I was walking down the hall at my office not thinking about anything in particular, a common state of my mind, when it struk me that the tune was almost the same as the hymn tune, ST PETER, to which the words "In Christ there is not East or West --" and "How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds --" are sung and which I have known all my life. I also wrote a tune to R.L. Stevenson's poem, "Dark brown is the river", at the same time. Some day it may come to me where I actually got that tune. It will really make me sad because I truly love it and am proud of it. - Philip Hudson


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Subject: RE: Stephen Foster - How original was he?
From: Barry Finn
Date: 27 Aug 98 - 05:57 PM

Hugill says of Stevie's biographer, Howard, that the chorus of "Camptown Races" is from the English ballad "Ten Thousand Miles Away", which if so says Hugill (he also says there is only a faint resemblance) that he believes that seamen took this to seawhich was used as a shanty & added to it a chorus from some existing Negro song, the result being the shanty Sacramento, which would've heard durning the 49 gold rush days, he then goes on with another theory. Foster copyrighted this in 1850 but didn't have it in print until 1856, in 49 Sacramento was heard from the decks of the Sea Whitch, Flying Cloud, Romance Of The Seas, etc. so it was already well sung before 1850. Alot of ifs & buts. Barry


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Subject: Lyr Add: HEY, COCKY DOO (from Montgomery)
From: Murray on Saltspring
Date: 27 Aug 98 - 11:40 PM

Dear Ewan:
It isn't "Camptown Races", it's "Polly Wolly Doodle", one stanza of which goes [or did until it was seen as racist!]
"Oh I came to a river, and I couldn't get across/Sing Polly etc./
So I jumped on a nigger, 'cause I thought he was a hoss, /Sing Polly etc."

This I have found in a version of your song [what is it, actually?] namely "Hey, Cocky Doo", from Dundee, in the Montgomeries' "Sandy Candy", 1948:

Hey, Cocky doo,
How d'ye do?
Sailin aboot
In yer best o blue.

An alpaca frock,
A green silk shawl,
A white straw bonnet,
And a pink parasol.

I gaed tae the river,
I cudna get across,
I paid ten shillins
For an auld blin horse.

I jumped on his back,
He fell wi a crack,
So I played the fiddle
Till the boat cam back.

The other song is probably not connected, for I'd say the names/rhymes are coincidental. I'm reminded though of a bit of a version of "Sally Water" (as the English collector Lady Gomme titles it) in her "Traditional Games of England, Scotland & Ireland", II.163, from Aberdeen Training College: "...Raffles up, and raffles down, and raffles a' a dancin',/ The bonniest lassie that ever I saw,/ Was [child in the centre] dancin'." This itself reminds me (albeit faintly) of the 5th verse of Robert Burns' version of "The Ploughman": "Snaw-white stockins on his legs,/ And siller buckles glancin;/ A gude blue bannet on his head,/ And O but he was handsome!"

I'd appreciate a word from you (by private e-mail if you like) about your rhymes. Cheers
Murray@saltspring.com


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Subject: RE: Stephen Foster - How original was he?
From: Jon W.
Date: 28 Aug 98 - 10:51 AM

The "came to a river and I couldn't get across" verse fits in Camptown Races just as well. But I first saw it in "Turkey in the Straw." Must be a floating verse or something. No pun intended, but once noticed, appreciated.

Jon W.


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Subject: RE: Stephen Foster - How original was he?
From: Bert
Date: 28 Aug 98 - 02:56 PM

Philip,
I know what you mean about tunes. Every time I write a song I think, "I've heard that tune somewhere". Then I get scared to sing it to anyone in case they recognize it.

Just proves that songs don't get written in a vacuum, they must be relevant to their environment.

Lionel Bart, one of the best songwriters of our time, is a great 'borrower' but it doesn't make him any less of a songwriter. His musical "Maggie May" wouldn't be the same without the sea shanteys.

Regarding Stephen Foster; it would be more surprising to find that he (or any other great songwriter) HADN'T borrowed anything.

Bert.


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Subject: RE: Stephen Foster - How original was he?
From: Ewan McV
Date: 03 Sep 98 - 07:56 AM

Thanks for all thoughts. Now - who wrote Polly Wolly Doodle? (I'll post this query as a new thread)


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Subject: RE: Stephen Foster - How original was he?
From: Jerry Bryant
Date: 03 Sep 98 - 04:44 PM

Bert,

Can you give me more info on Lionel Bart's musical Maggie May, that you mention above?

Thanks, jerry.bryant@kp.org


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Subject: RE: Stephen Foster - How original was he?
From: Cindy Harris
Date: 04 Sep 98 - 11:52 AM

Being that I'm the autoharping world's best excuse for a Stephen Foster expert and have recently done some research on his life and music, I thought I'd put my two cents in on this discussion.

It is generally agreed by most experts that the vast majority of the music attributed to Stephen Foster is original: he is defintely not just an "arranger and publisher." Evidence for this is apparently abundant in Foster's work notebooks in the eyes of musicologists who have studied them. I don't remember for sure about the originality of Camptown Races, and I'd have to check the list on this to say for sure, but I do seem to recall that this was a song for which Foster received only a $100 or so flat fee and never collected royalties. For those who are interested, the source for the list (and lots of other really interesting facts and anecdotes about Foster -- he must have been QUITE a character) can be found in the biography: Howard, John Tasker, 1890-1964. Stephen Foster, America's troubadour /John Tasker Howard. New York, Tudor [1939].

And if you're interested in reading up on how Foster's music was influenced by the culture of his times and how his music continues to influence our musical culture today, I highly recommend:

Emerson, Ken. Doo-dah!: Stephen Foster and the rise of American popular culture. New York: Simon & Schuster, c1997.

No matter what you believe about Foster's originality, it's hard not to be fascinated by the vitality of the music attributed to him. In fact, I was so disappointed to discover that the Library of American Music at the Stephen Foster Memorial here in Pittsburgh had no recordings of Foster's music that used autoharp that I rallied a bunch of my 'harper cyber-friends and we made a tape for the library that includes 20 or so of us performing our favorite Foster songs in arrangements that range from solo instrumentals to full string bands with vocals. Definitely a lot of fun, and a great example of the folk process considering that the autoharp wasn't even invented when Foster died, and the way we play Foster's music on it in the 1990's would probably never have been envisioned by Foster even had he survived another 10 years or so and heard an autoharp played. The fact that his music CAN be played and enjoyed in a modern folk context is real evidence that Foster deserves a prominent place in the development of American musical culture.

Cindy Harris cah@lonewolf.com


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Subject: RE: Stephen Foster - How original was he?
From: Bert
Date: 04 Sep 98 - 04:21 PM

Jerry,

The Musical Maggie May was written by Lionel Bart and Alun Owen. In the Sixties I think.

It's about a girl who falls in love with a boy in her class at school.
They grow up and he joins the Merchant Navy and leaves her.
She becomes a prostitute.
He returns from sea some years later and finally notices her. They get together
He is working in the docks and discovers a shipment of arms being sent to somewhere in the empire to be used to opress the natives.
He gets the guys to go out on strike.
He gets killed trying to dump the crates in the dock.
She goes back on the game.

Some of the tunes were Maggie May of course, Ranzo Ranzo, & Leave Her Johnny, leave her.

One memorable scene was when the union's district delegate came to the strike meeting and tried to get them to go back to work.

I've searched the web but can't find much more than just a mention of it.

Bert.


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Subject: RE: Stephen Foster - How original was he?
From: gargoyle
Date: 05 Sep 98 - 02:27 PM

He wrote/published OVER 2,000 songs.

The majority are forgotten...however others are central to the core of "Americana Music" and sung throughout the world. You would be hard pressed to come up with any single American songwriter who has contributed more.

He certainly wasn't a plagerist in the "Boston Globe" sense of the word.


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Subject: RE: Stephen Foster - How original was he?
From: Jim McLean
Date: 09 Aug 11 - 07:18 AM

There is an article by George Pullen Jackson in The Musical Quarterly, Vol. XXII, 1936, called Stephen Foster's debt to American Folk-song. There are many examples of derivations for his most famous songs.Just a couple of examples,'Linda Has Departed', 1859, uses the Tannahill suggested tune for 'The Braes o' Balquhidder', The Three Carles o' Buchannan, 'Willie, We Have Missed You' 1854, uses the melody of 'Jock of Hazeldene'.


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Subject: RE: Stephen Foster - How original was he?
From: mayomick
Date: 11 Feb 12 - 09:17 PM

I'm sure that Foster took a lot from the music that he heard but he gave back so much more - and not just to American music. Compare the melody of The Pub with No Beer to Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer" for instance.


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