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Stephen Foster, William Billings & Early Popular Music

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by

Jason Luciana

on 28 January 2014

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Transcript of Stephen Foster, William Billings & Early Popular Music

Stephen Foster, William Billings & Early Popular Music
Early popular music was influenced by styles primarily imported from Europe
Parlour Songs, Troubadours & Operettas
Since there was no radio, television or even phonographs in households yet, the primary source of music enjoyed by the general public was sold as
sheet music
.

This means that most homes had a piano in the parlour, and someone in every family knew how to play.

The
parlor song
, named so due to its commonly being performed in the
parlor
room of a household, allowed composers the opportunity to write single-song sheet music for a low price that would reach a wide audience.

Parlor songs
were sentimental and easy to perform, usually comprised of a catchy tune in an A-B-A form.

An early example of a popular parlor song,
"Woodman! Spare that Tree!"
is written in A-B-A format with a simple melody most could learn in a short time.
William Billings
While Billings was primarily a composer of choral music, he is credited with creating a uniquely American style of music.
Billings composed "The New England Psalm Singer" - the first book of American music in 1741
Rather than use the classical stylings of Europe, Billings integrated American folk music of the time as well as Negro hymns and spirituals
His song, "Chester", established a new, grass-roots American musical torch which would be passed, many years later, to a new composer who would establish himself as the best writer of American popular music in history.
The Operetta
Operettas
were short opera-like compositions almost almost always comedic in nature

The foremost composers of
operetta
were two men reputed for bickering and constantly having trouble finding consensus on, well, anything!

Gilbert & Sullivan are quite possibly two of the most famous theatrical composers in history and gave us operettas such as H.M.S. Pinafore, The Mikado and Pirates of Penzance ("Oh better far to live and die.")
Stephen Foster
Known as the "father of American music"
An Analysis -
"Nelly Was A Lady"
Foster was one of the first composers to overtly incorporate lyrics and themes from African-American work songs, field songs and
minstrel shows
.
Before this song, no one had called a black woman a "lady". The song is sung from the perspective of a man who has lost his love.
The unique wording of the lyrics was also indicative of Foster's revolutionary song-writing.
Nelly was a lady,
Last night she died,
Toll de bell for lubly Nell,
My dark Virginny bride.

Now I'm unhappy, and I'm weeping,
Can't tote de cottonwood no more;
Last night, while Nelly was a sleeping,
Death came a knockin' at de door.

Nelly was a lady,
Last night she died,
Toll de bell for lubly Nell,
My dark Virginny bride.

When I saw my Nelly in de morning,
Smile till she open'd up her eyes,
Seem'd like de light ob day a dawning,
Jist 'fore de sun begin to rise.

Nelly was a lady,
Last night she died,
Toll de bell for lubly Nell,
My dark Virginny bride.

Close by de margin ob de water,
Whar de lone weeping willow grows,
Dar lib'd Virginny's lubly daughter;
Dar she in death may find repose.

Nelly was a lady,
Last night she died,
Toll de bell for lubly Nell,
My dark Virginny bride.

Down in de meadow, 'mong de clober,
Walk wid my Nelly by my side;
Now all dem happy days am ober,
Farewell, my dark Virginny bride.

Nelly was a lady,
Last night she died,
Toll de bell for lubly Nell,
My dark Virginny bride.
Woodman, spare that tree!
Touch not a single bough!
In youth it sheltered me,
And I'll protect it now.
'Twas my forefather's hand
That placed it near his cot:
There, woodman, let it stand,
Thy axe shall harm it not!

That old familiar tree,
Whose glory and renown
Are spread o'er land and sea,
And wouldst thou hew it down?
Woodman, forbear thy stroke!
Cut not its earth-bound ties;
Oh, spare that aged oak,
Now towering to the skies!

When but an idle boy
I sought its grateful shade;
In all their gushing joy
Here too my sisters played.
My mother kissed me here;
My father pressed my hand
Forgive this foolish tear,
But let that old oak stand!

My heart-strings round thee cling,
Close as thy bark, old friend!
Here shall the wild-bird sing,
And still thy branches bend.
Old tree! the storm still brave!
And, woodman, leave the spot:
While I've a hand to save,
Thy axe shall harm it not.
Born July 4, 1826, Died January 13, 1864
Known primarily for his
parlor
and
minstrel
music
Foster was one of the first American composers to incorporate music from
minstrel shows.
Foster composed such well-renowned songs as "Camptown Races", "Nelly Bly", "Swanee River" and "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair".
Due to loose copyright laws and limited composer royalties of the time, Foster hardly made any money from his compositions and ended up destitute and impoverished.
The Minstrel Show
Minstrel shows still represent a
time in America when African-
Americans were at their most
down-trodden, but also at their
most influential to popular music.
The
minstrel show
was a theatrical performance, usually performed on a vaudeville circuit, in which white men "painted" their faces black and performed songs, comedy routines or dance combinations.
The now-controversial and taboo for of performance heralded a new era of popular music, as African-American musical traditions began making their way into American folk and popular music.
While
minstrel shows
were, at first, dominated by white men, pretending to be black, black performers would eventually also don black face and join in the minstrel performances.
The most famous of these men was Bert Williams
Full transcript