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Stephen Foster Collection

What's online?

Sheet music, broadsides, songsters, music manuscripts, correspondence, business records, photographs, newspaper clippings, maps, iconography, Foster’s sketchbook, and other ephemera related to Stephen Foster and his family.

What's in the entire collection?

In addition to the materials that have been digitized, the Center for American Music also holds Foster’s account book, personal possessions of Stephen Foster’s and his family, musical instruments, sound recordings, songbooks, “Fosteriana,” and other books and periodicals pertaining to the composer’s life and work.

About Stephen Foster’s Sketchbook

Stephen Foster’s sketchbook is a twelve- by eight-inch (30.9 x 20.5 cm) book of 113 leaves half-bound in brown leather with heavy paper boards covered in red and blue marbleized paper. All entries are in similar handwriting in pencil, except for red pencil for verse 1 of “Old Black Joe” (p.109v); all on same paper. The book is inscribed “Allegheny City June 26 1851” in Foster’s hand on page 1 recto and appears to span a nine-year period.

The sketchbook includes draft texts for sixty-four different songs including several of his most popular ones; a few pages include sketches of the music. Several of the draft lyrics are for unpublished songs (these are noted with brackets around the titles). The book also contains odd jottings, scribbles, doodles, and exercises in which Foster apparently practiced his signature and initials. A number of pages were torn out and are missing.

The original sketchbook is stored in a vault at the University of Pittsburgh. One page had been cut out by the composer’s granddaughter; it has been recovered and placed in its original position. The digital sketchbook presented on this website represents the full contents of the book as it came from the Foster family to the Foster Hall Collection in the early 1930s. A photostat of the entire book was created by the staff of the Foster Hall Collection in 1933 and assigned sequential page numbers. In 1986, through close examination of paper and binding, accurate foliation (recto and verso) numbers were supplied. In 2005 the entire contents of the sketchbook were scanned by the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music, a collaboration between scholars at the University of Oxford and Royal Holloway, University of London. This online digital presentation is based on those scans.

About Stephen Collins Foster

Pittsburgh-born composer Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) is considered America’s first professional composer. Over his brief lifetime, he composed and arranged at least 286 songs, including “Camptown Races,” “Oh! Susanna,” “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” “Beautiful Dreamer,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” and “Old Folks at Home” (or “Way Down Upon the Swanee River”). The Center for American Music at the University of Pittsburgh contains the Foster Hall Collection, the principal repository for materials pertaining to the composer. The collection and a museum devoted to Foster’s life are located in the Stephen Foster Memorial on the University’s campus.

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