Stephen Foster Memorial Day on January 13th commemorates the music of the man who composed hundreds of America’s first popular songs.

Born in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, on July 4, 1826, Stephen Foster became known as America’s First Composer. His catchy tunes based on minstrel songs are still known today.

Despite Foster’s exclusive music contract with Firth, Pond, and Company, he was penniless when he died at the age of 37. While his songs were wildly popular, the lack of copyright protection and alcoholism left him with nothing of value to show for his work.

During his short life, Foster wrote over 200 songs. His best-known compositions include “Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races,” “Old Folks at Home,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” “Old Black Joe,” and “Beautiful Dreamer” and are still very popular today.  

Foster died on January 13, 1864, at the age of 37.

HOW TO OBSERVE #StephenFosterMemorialDay

Read about the life of Stephen Foster or watch a documentary. Listen to some of his music. You might be surprised to learn how familiar some of it is. How many of them do you already know? Check out our suggestions below:

  • Doo-dah! by Ken Emerson
  • Beautiful Dreamer: The Life of Stephen Collins Foster by Ellen Hunter Ulken
  • Read about the African American influence on Stephen Foster’s music.

Use #StephenFosterMemorialDay to post on social media.


Congress passed a joint resolution on October 27, 1951, designating January 13th Stephen Foster Memorial Day and President Harry S. Truman proclaimed the observance for Sunday, January 13, 1952.

Stephen Foster FAQ

Q. Are Stephen Foster’s songs in the public domain?
A. Yes. Though Foster sold the rights to his songs in 1857 to his publishers, today, Foster’s songs may be performed, recorded, or published without permission.

Q. Was Stephen Foster inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame?
A. Yes. In 1970, Stephen Foster was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Q. What was the last song Stephen Foster wrote?
A. Stephen Foster wrote “Beautiful Dreamer” two weeks before his death.


[Verse 1]
I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair
Borne, like a vapor, on the summer air;
I see her tripping where the bright streams play
Happy as the daisies that dance on her way
Many were the wild notes her merry voice would pour
Many were the blithe birds that warbled them o’er:
Oh! I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair
Floating, like a vapor, on the soft summer air

[Verse 2]
I long for Jeanie with the daydawn smile
Radiant in gladness, warm with winning guile;
I hear her melodies, like joys gone by
Sighing round my heart o’er the fond hopes that die:—
Sighing like the night wind and sobbing like the rain,—
Wailing for the lost one that comes not again:
Oh! I long for Jeanie, and my heart bows low
Never more to find her where the bright waters flow

[Verse 3]
I sigh for Jeanie, but her light form strayed
Far from the fond hearts round her native glade;
Her smiles have vanished and her sweet songs flown
Flitting like the dreams that have cheered us and gone
Now the nodding wild flowers may wither on the shore
While her gentle fingers will cull them no more:
Oh! I sigh for Jeanie with the light brown hair
Floating, like a vapor, on the soft summer air

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