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April 3, 1997

Foster biographer to lecture here

Journalist and music critic Ken Emerson, author of the soon-to-be-released "Doo-dah! Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture" will lecture on April 11 at noon in the Stephen Foster Memorial auditorium.

"Doo-dah!" is the first full biography of Foster to appear in more than 60 years. Emerson's appearance at Pitt will launch his national pre-publication book tour.

Emerson will discuss Stephen Foster, race and the popular culture of the time. The program will open with a performance of well-known Foster songs by members of Dear Friends. A book-signing will follow Emerson's lecture.

Due in stores May 7, "Doo-dah!" explores the songwriter's life and shows how his musical career played a central role in the fusion of black and white cultures, and the development of American popular culture.

The book also contains a portrait of Pittsburgh in the mid-19th century, including sketches of many prominent city residents of the period.

"I particularly enjoyed doing research in Pittsburgh because of the friendliness of the people at all of the institutions," Emerson said. "This book is almost entirely researched and conceived in Pittsburgh, and largely about Pittsburgh." Emerson spent five years, 1991-1996, researching Foster's life with assistance from Foster Memorial curator Deane Root. Collections at Pitt's Center for American Music provided Emerson with original music manuscripts, Foster family letters, legal documents, rare photographs and other material.

"We brought the world of Foster to his fingertips," Root said, "so that he could write the first biographical study of Foster's impact and importance in American culture." Recent drive-by shootings of rap music stars have stirred a national debate about the dangers of popular music, but that is nothing new, according to Root.

"We hear much in the 1990s about the dangers of popular music's lyrics and its influences on youth, but popular music has always had much stronger and more subtle and far-reaching effects in our society," Root said. "Ken Emerson's book helps advance the knowledge of just how this music works to create both positive and negative images, and how it helps us to define ourselves." Emerson is the former op-ed editor of New York Newsday and the article editor for The New York Times Magazine. His appearance at Pitt is co-sponsored by the Center for American Music and The Book Center.

–Mike Sajna

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