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Stephen Foster: Pioneering American Composer.

On Jan. 13, 2004, The Center for American Music along with Allegheny Cemetery and the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Theatre Arts commemorated the 140th anniversary of Stephen Foster's death with a number of special events.

It would not be appropriate to regard Stephen Foster as anything less than a great pioneer of American music composition.  He created in his lifetime what would become some of the world’s most popular music for the next century and a half to follow. If he had access to today’s copyright laws and publishing network, Foster would be earning millions a year, but in his day he would only see profits from the direct sales of his sheet music ( 5 – 10 cents a sheet ) or from the outright sale of a song to a publisher. Foster kept extensive records of his business. His contracts, written out in his own hand are examples of the earliest ones known to exist between American music publishers and individual songwriters. He died financially broke at the age of 37, but he left behind a priceless legacy.

More than just a successful songwriter, Stephen Foster had a purpose; to reform a style of entertainment that had already taken a strong hold on American popular culture: the black-face minstrel show.  In his own words, he wanted to "build up taste...among refined people by making words suitable to their taste, instead of the trashy and really offensive words which belong to some songs of that order.”  Foster also studied the different ethnic music and poetic styles prevalent among the new immigrant populations of the United States as well. He wanted to write music using images and a musical vocabulary that would be widely understood by all groups. He sought to humanize the characters in his songs, to have them care for one another, and to convey a sense that all people--regardless of their ethnic identities or social and economic class--share the same longings and needs for family and home.

Although he was exploited by the entrepreneurs of his day, and modern public opinion is sometimes misdirected against him out of politically correct ignorance, we must always remember the spirit of Foster’s work, and forever marvel at the beauty and elegance of his words and music.

For more details on the life of Stephen Foster and his music, please visit the website for the Center For American Music.

The Arkansas Traveler


"The Arkansas Traveler" was the state song of Arkansas from 1949 to 1963. It has been the state historical song since 1987. The music and lyrics were composed around 1847, and credit is given to Colonel Sanford C. 'Sandy' Faulkner (1806–1874).


Colonel Sanford Faulkner  

March 3, 1806 - August 4, 1874




Colonel Sanford C. 'Sandy' Faulkner (1806–1874) was born in Scott County, Kentucky. He was an early western music pioneer known as a teller of tall tales and a fiddle player. He also served as a Colonel in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, and was at one point placed in command of the Arsenal at Little Rock, Arkansas. Faulkner County Arkansas, is named in his honor.


Sanford Faulkner is buried at Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock, Arkansas





The song is traditionally known to have had several versions of lyrics, which are much older than the copyrighted song. The official lyrics as the state historical song of Arkansas are copyrighted and can be found on the website of the Arkansas Secretary of State.



This version was once popular in Ohio in the 1850’s  


The Arkansas Traveler

Oh once upon a time in Arkansas

An old man sat in his little cabin door,

And fiddled at a tune that he liked to hear,

A jolly old tune that he played by ear.

It was raining hard but the fiddler didn't care

He sawed away at the popular air,

Though his roof tree leaked like a water fall

That didn't seem to bother that man at all


A traveler was riding by that day,

And stopped to hear him a-practicing away

The cabin was afloat and his feet were wet,

But still the old man didn't seem to fret.


So the stranger said: "Now the way it seems to me,

You'd better mend your roof," said he.

But the old man said, as he played away:

"I couldn't mend it now, it's a rainy day."


The traveler replied: "That's all quite true,

But this, I think, is the thing for you to do;

Get busy on a day that is fair and bright,

Then pitch the old roof till it's good and tight."


But the old man kept on a-playing at his reel,

And tapped the ground with his leathery heel:

"Get along," said he, "for you give me a pain;

My cabin never leaks when it doesn't rain."