Beautiful Dreamer
The Life of Stephen Collins Foster

By Ellen Hunter Ulken

While East Coast composers of the mid-1800s continued to imitate the music of their European forebears, Pittsburgh native Stephen Foster infused his compositions with the rich and diverse flavors of river life. By mixing this “western” essence with the style of traditional English folk songs, he created an original American sound.

“Oh! Susannah,” his first hit, became the banner song of forty-niners during the California gold rush. “Old Kentucky Home,” “Old Folks at Home,” “Camptown Races” and “Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair” are still sung a century and a half later. But despite the popularity of his music, the pioneer of American songwriting died in poverty. Beautiful Dreamer is his story.

As a child in northern Florida, Ellen Ulken used to swim in the Suwannee River, made famous by the song “Old Folks at Home.” Later, in her travels – first growing up on far-flung Army posts and then as a flight attendant – she found the music of Stephen Foster a comforting reminder of her rural Southern roots. Beautiful Dreamer is her tribute to Foster, whose songs explore the range of human emotion – from the melancholy of “Gentle Annie” to the merriment of “Ring, Ring the Banjo!”

Ellen lives in Peachtree City, Georgia with her companion Jerry Watts and his English setter, Scout.

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