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This collection is hosted by the University of Pittsburgh's Digital Research Library

Stephen Collins Foster

Pittsburgh-born composer Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) is considered America’s first professional composer.  Over his brief lifetime, he composed some 285 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.

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 Several of the draft lyrics are for unpublished songs (these are noted with brackets around the titles).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:

  • 101 recto and verso
  • 102 recto and verso
  • 103 recto and verso
  • 104 recto and verso
  • 105 recto and verso
  • 106 recto and verso
  • 118 recto and verso
  • 123 recto and verso

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.

A full transcript of the book was created by Dr. Deane L. Root in June 2000 and edited by Kathryn Miller Haines. The Transcript field within the database contains the text and is searchable.

About Digitizing the Sketchbook

In March 2005 the sketchbook was digitized in Oxford, England, by Dr. Julia Craig-McFeeley of the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Manuscripts using a PhaseOne PowerPhase FX digital scanning back mounted on a Fuji GX 680 III professional SLR camera body and medium format lens. The 800dpi images were the basis of the images included in this digital archive. The University of Pittsburgh's Digital Research Library hosts this website that provides Internet access to the sketchbook images.

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