Stephen Collins Foster Biography - online book

A Biography Of America's Folk-Song Composer By Harold Vincent Milligan

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most of them are commonplace, at least one of them is Stephen Foster at his best. "The Old Folks at Home" is Foster's chief claim to remembrance. Aside from one or two national airs, born of great historical crises, such as the "Marseillaise," this is probably the most widely known and loved song ever written. It has been trans­lated into every European language and into many Asian and African tongues. It has been sung by mil­lions the world over and has long since passed out of the realm of written song to be incorporated into the body of folk-music passed orally from generation to gen­eration, breathing the very soul of the people. There are many legends with regard to the enormous sales of this song. Even if the figures were available, which they are not, they would but faintly indicate its widespread pop­ularity, for it is a song which travels not by the printed page, but by oral tradition. It was published by Firth, Pond & Co., and the sales within a few years lan up into hundreds of thousands, while Foster received in royalties an amount variously estimated from $15,000 upwards. - The magic of this wonderful melody defies analysis. In some subtle and instinctive way it expresses the home­sick yearning over the past and the far-away which is the common emotional heritage of the whole human race. If art is an attempt of the human spirit to express itself in its relation to life, and if simplicity of means, as well as lucidity, are to be accounted artistic virtues, then "The Old Folks at Home" must remain for all time one of the greatest achievements of musical art.
The first version of this song, in Stephen Foster's own handwriting, is to be found in a manuscript book which he used for many years, now in the possession of his granddaughter, Mrs. A. D. Rose, custodian of the Foster Memorial Homestead in Pittsburgh. The first draft of the song was entitled, " 'Way down upon de old planta­tion," and sings of the Pedee River instead of the Swanee:

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III