Stephen Collins Foster Biography - online book

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

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TRAGEDY
93
Mahon tells of first hearing Foster's songs "O Su­sanna" and "Uncle Ned" in 1852 in Patras, Greece, where he was clerk to a ship-chandler. The songs had been brought there by the family of an English sea-captain. Mahon later heard them played by the British army bands in Malta, and during the voyage from Malta to New York on the bark "Wildfire," he heard the sailors sing many of Foster's songs, especially " 'Way Down Upon the Swanee River." He claims (and there is no reason to doubt his word) that he was Foster's friend from the time of their meeting in 1861 until the latter's death in 1864.
"In January, 1864," he writes, "I was compelled, in consequence of severe illness, to part with Foster and enter the pay-ward of Bellevue Hospital. On the 10th of that month I lost my wife, the mother of my children. On the 13th my friend died in the same hospital, and I knew not that he was even in there, the first intimation I had of his death being a short account of his funeral in the papers."
Mahon has something to say about the "Old Folks at Home" controversy:
One night, while sitting in my apartments, then at 311 Henry Street, my wife asked Stephen if he knew "The Old Folks at Home."
"I should think I ought to," he replied, "for I got $2,000 (not $15,000) from Firth, Pond & Co. for it."
"Why, said I, "how could that be? Was not E. P. Christy the author and composer?"
"Oh no," replied he, laughing, "Christy paid me $15 (not $500) for allowing his name to appear as the author and composer. I did so on condition that after a certain time his name should be super­seded by my own. One hundred thousand copies of the first edition were soon sold, for which I received a royalty of two cents per copy, and received $1,400 for 'Willie, We Have Missed You' in the same way. Subsequently I sold out my royalties, and have now a con­tract to furnish Pond with twelve songs a year, for which I receive $800 per annum, payable monthly at $66.66, and I have permission to furnish six songs per annum to Lee & Walker of Philadelphia for $400, so my income is now $1200 per annum."
Many of Mahon's anecdotes are of doubtful value and he strains credulity to the breaking-point when he tells of Stephen stopping on the street to jot down musical







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