A New Look at My Childhood Songs

On a trip south we visited the Stephen Foster Museum.

The house and museum is located in the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center Park on the banks of the legendary Suwannee River. This river was made famous by Foster’s song “Old Folks at Home.”

The grounds are beautiful with majestic old trees.

As wandered the grounds we headed down to see this famous river.

Getting closer to the water I saw the sign warning of alligators and beat a hasty retreat.

Inside the building were many beautiful old pianos and paintings depicting many of Foster’s songs.

Foster wrote over 200 songs and was called the “Father of American Music.”

His song “My Old Kentucky Home” is the official song of the state of Kentucky. It is believed he wrote his famous song “I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” as an attempt to win back his wife who had left him. While many of his songs are about the South he never lived there and only visited it once on his honeymoon.

While I grew up singing many of Foster’s folk songs both at home and in choir at school, I doubt that many of his songs would be used today. They clearly depict a world of southern white culture and its ties to slavery.

As a child I sang “Oh Susanna” but it was only when I did more research of Foster that I heard the second verse. On my!

“Massa’s in the Cold, Cold Ground” talks of how the “darkeys” are crying because their master is dead and how he made them love him because he treated them so kindly.

The State of Florida’s official song is “The Old Folks at Home.” Thankfully they have changed some of the offensive words;

Original words: All up and down the whole creation, Sadly I roam. I’m a still a-longin’ for the old plantation, Oh, for the old folks at home.

New version: All up and down this whole creation, Sadly I roam, Still longing for my childhood station, And for the old folks at home.

Original words: All the world is sad and dreary, Ev’rywhere I roam. Oh, darkies, how my heart grows weary, Far from the old folks at home.

New version: All the world is sad and dreary Everywhere I roam. O dear ones, how my heart grows weary, Far from the old folks at home.

On the grounds there is a 97-bell carillon and his songs are played throughout the day. This carillon is one of the largest musical instruments ever produced in the Western Hemisphere, and the world’s largest tubular carillon in number of bells.

The park itself is beautiful with hiking, bicycling, canoeing and wildlife viewing for visitors. There is also a full-facility campground and cabins to rent.

While I enjoyed the beautiful grounds and recognized many of the songs from my childhood as I took a closer look at many of the lyrics I left with mixed feelings about the place.