University of Pittsburgh
July 31, 2005

Stephen Foster's Personal Sketchbook Now Online

Pages show original lyrics and doodles of America's first professional songwriter

Sharon Blake


Cell: 412-277-6926

PITTSBURGH-Stephen Foster's personal sketchbook-containing the draft texts of some of his most famous song lyrics as he wrote them in the 1850s-is now online for the public to view.

One of the gems of the Foster Hall Collection in the University of Pittsburgh's Center for American Music, the sketchbook includes the draft texts for 64 songs, including Old Folks at Home, Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair, and My Old Kentucky Home, Good-night! This past spring, the sketchbook was digitized by the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Manuscripts in Oxford, England. Through Pitt's Digital Research Library, the pages now are available for viewing online at The original sketchbook is stored in a University vault.

The 113-page sketchbook also contains some musical notation, odd jottings, scribbles, and exercises in which Foster was apparently practicing his signature. Appearing to span a nine-year period of the prolific songwriter's life, the sketchbook is expected to be a valuable resource for researchers, historians, and students.

"You can see Foster's original orthography, the stroke of the pencil, how he created the letters," said Deane Root, Fletcher Hodges Jr. Curator and director of Pitt's Center for American Music and a longtime scholar of America's first professional songwriter. "It fleshes out his whole working process and helps us understand what he was doing creatively in certain times of his life."

From the pages of Foster's original sketchbook, one can glean information not available from other sources. For example, there are several drafts of the lyrics to My Old Kentucky Home, Good-night!, which he originally titled in the sketchbook Poor Uncle Tom, Good-night!

"The song appears to have initially been a response to Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel," said Kathy Miller Haines, the center's associate director. "But as he revised it, he attempted to make it more universal by eliminating the references to the book."

Foster (1826-1864) was born in Pittsburgh and spent much of his life in the city. In 1937, Josiah Kirby Lilly, the then-retired president of Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals and lifelong Foster devotee, gave his personal collection of Foster's correspondence, original photographs, manuscripts, posters, programs, songbooks, and other items to the University of Pittsburgh to be housed in the new Stephen Foster Memorial. They, along with thousands of printed Foster scores, comprise the Foster Hall Collection, the world's most comprehensive collection of Foster materials and the foundation of Pitt's Center for American Music, the first research center for American music established at an institution of higher education. The center is dedicated to documenting American music and the role it has played in our lives.