Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair
DESCRIPTION: "I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair, Borne, like a vapor, on a summer's air." The singer praises her voice, her "day-dawn smile," etc., but sadly concludes, that he is "never more to find her where the bright waters flow."
AUTHOR: Stephen C. Foster
EARLIEST DATE: 1854 (sheet music by Firth, Pond & Co.)
KEYWORDS: love separation nonballad
FOUND IN: US
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Fireside, p. 100, "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 249, "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair" (1 text)
Emerson, p. 53, "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair" (1 text)
Fuld-WFM, pp. 311-312, "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair"
I Dream of Jeanie
NOTES: Jeanie was Foster's wife, Jane McDowell Foster. Had she known the uses to which her image would be put (from hair advertisements in the 1860s to idiotic television shows a century later), I can only think she would have filed for pre-emptive divorce.
Legman regards "Jeanie" as an adaption (he calls it plagiarism) of "To Daunton Me," found in the Scots Musical Museum (#182). But Legman often saw kinship that others do not see; Fuld says there is "no similarity between the two songs," and I have to agree that I see no points of contact between either the text or the tune. According to John Tasker Howard, Stephen Foster, America's Troubadour, 1934 (I use the 1939 Tudor Publishing edition), p. 241, if Foster was plagiarizing anyone, it was himself; the first part of the tune of "Jeanie" is quite close to "Willie We Have Missed You," which Foster (based on his working notebook) had written slightly earlier. It appears from the notebook that Foster wrote "Jeanie" while he and his wife were separated, and it seems not unlikely that he wrote it because he missed her. Howard comments that it is "one of Stephen's very few successful love songs"; otherwise, Howard suggests, Foster didn't write very well about love.
Spaeth (A History of Popular Music in America, p. 116) says of this song, "Jeanie is the song that America discovered during those incredibly dull months when radio decided that it could get along without copyrighted music. Before that it had been considered a choice bit of rather obscure Fosteriana."
Deems Taylor et al, A Treasury of Stephen Foster, Random House, 1946, p. 111, points out that many Foster songs have a heroine whose name was a variation on Jeanie: this song, "Little Jenny Dow," "Jenny's Coming O'er the Green," "Jenny June." Could all these be tributes to Foster's wife? It wouldn't surprise me; in "Little Jenny Dow," even the last name is reminiscent of Jane's family name McDowell. - RBW
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