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Understanding Stephen Collins Foster His World and Music

O'Connell, Joanne H. (2007) Understanding Stephen Collins Foster His World and Music. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation is an explanation of the life and music of the American composer Stephen Collins Foster in terms of his historical world. Foster captured the essential dynamics of the antebellum mind and heart, which accounted for the immense popularity of his music even during the composer's lifetime. Consequently, by placing Foster and his music within the historical context of his own antebellum society, culture, and history, I sought explanations for the following: the function of sentimentality in Foster's tear-inducing parlor songs and in his blackface plantation songs; the Copperhead, anti-Lincoln politics of the Foster family; Foster's non-companionate marriage to the high-tempered yet independent "Jeanie;" what the young Foster learned during his stay in the free city of Cincinnati, located just across the river from a slave state; Foster's position on minstrelsy and how he transformed the racially denigrating minstrel song into the refined, sentimental hybrid plantation song that sympathized with the slaves; how and why the piano girls were the major purchasers of Foster's parlor songs; the meaning behind the ghost-like images of the women in Foster's songs; life in Civil War New York along the Bowery where Foster spent his final years and a re-evaluation of his New York songs; and, finally, the curious conditions of his tragic death from an "accident" in his hotel room on the Bowery. Although Foster's association with the minstrel stage is often viewed as a source of embarrassment by twenty-first century Americans, I was able to demonstrate that ivStephen Foster wrote his greatest plantation songs during the years when blackface minstrelsy expressed sympathy for the slaves, and that he abandoned the genre when it did not.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
O'Connell, Joanne
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMuller, Edwardekmuller@pitt.eduEKMULLER
Committee MemberRoot, Deane Ldlr@pitt.eduDLR
Committee MemberKarsten, Peterpjk2@pitt.eduPJK2
Committee MemberHall, Van Beckvanbeck@pitt.eduVANBECK
Date: 22 June 2007
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 23 March 2007
Approval Date: 22 June 2007
Submission Date: 20 April 2007
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: American Music; Biography; Stephen Foster
Other ID:, etd-04202007-192243
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:39
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:41


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