This Thanksgiving day feels a bit melancholy to me. We’re in a time of radical change and the stresses and strains are being felt all over. This song, by Stephen Foster, is from hard times of another era (the great depression of 1850), yet speaks eloquently of bringing empathy to people of all circumstances. That we can do so is something to be truly thankful for.
Stephen Foster (1826-1864) may be America’s first professional song writer. During his most productive years, he composed such American standards as Oh, Susanna (1848), Camptown Races (1850), My Old Kentucky Home (1853) and Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair (1854). Much of his music was written for minstrel shows, where it was performed in blackface. In what was actually an enlightened attitude for his time, Foster instructed that his songs should be performed in a pathetic, rather than a humorous style (pathetic meaning “to engender compassion”). During this time, he also eliminated dialect from his lyrics and stopped referring to his music as “plantation songs”, preferring the term “American melodies”.