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Ken Emerson's thickly textured narrative features an affectionate examination of American music's diverse strands as well as a perceptive portrait of the nation's first great songwriter. Stephen Foster (1826-64) was born in Pittsburgh and visited the South only briefly, yet songs like "My Old Kentucky Home" and "Oh! Susanna" drew on black Southern culture to create a uniquely American form of popular music. The author is clear-sighted about the complex blend of racism and genuine compassion that infused Foster's "blackface" compositions. [via]