Dubuque County Historical Society Images

The Artists, Writers, and Musicians

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Stephen Collins Foster

Stephen Collins Foster is considered the first truly American composer and his nostalgic melodies written during the pre-Civil War period have come to symbolize the golden age of steamboating. His minstrel songs, including the Glendy Burk, were influenced by the black roustabouts he heard on the Ohio River while working as a clerk for a Cincinnati steamboat agent.

My Old Kentucky Home, one of Foster's most famous plantation airs, was composed after he and his wife took a month long trip to New Orleans on board a steamboat captained by his brother. Although Stephen Foster did not achieve recognition during his life time, his works such as Old Folks at Home, also known as Swanee River, and Oh! Susannah have influenced generations of composers and have become an intricate part of American heritage.



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