My favorite Stephen Foster songs on his Fourth of July birthday
There's something cool about Stephen Foster, the first great American songwriter, being born on the Fourth of July (in 1826). When I was a kid, I remember the enjoyment of playing through a Foster songbook at the piano, a wonderful hardbound book with evocative, super-nostalgic drawings for each piece. And I remember being especially drawn to a couple of ballads that weren't as much a part of the Foster hit parade as "Beautiful Dreamer" and "I Dream of Jeannie."
These two, "Gentle Annie" and "Hard Times Come Again No More," struck me so strongly, I guess, because they were so darn sad, so haunting. They seemed to me terribly personal and real; they still do.
I found some video clips of both songs featuring Anna McGarrigle and her sister, the late Kate McGarrigle, along with friends and family (including Kate's son, Rufus Wainwright, in "Hard Times"). These are remarkably touching, truthful performances that demonstrate just how richly Foster's music continues to speak to us.
I know these are downers, not the usual bright Independence Day fare, but there sure are some hard times going on right now, so I don't think the songs are out of place at all. I hope you like them. (The "Gentle Annie" clip cuts off about two seconds too soon, alas, but the damage is slight.)