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IAC | Humanities
Can We Talk About Stephen Foster? (Fall 2018)
Thursday, September 27, 2018 at 7:30PM

Irish Arts Center
553 West 51st Street
New York, NY 10019

In April of this year, the city of Pittsburgh removed a public statue that depicted a black man playing a banjo at Stephen Foster’s feet, thrusting Foster into a national conversation about how we recognize influential individuals with troubling histories. Known as the “father of American music,” Foster penned an oeuvre that includes “Oh! Susanna” and “My Old Kentucky Home,” songs that helped weave the fabric of this country’s musical heritage. Some of his work was also of its time—minstrelsy that has no place in today’s canon.

The events in Pittsburgh came three years into the planning of an IAC concert intended to honor the 150th anniversary of Foster’s death. While the concert was meant to address Foster in all his complexities, the recent developments created a need to explore Foster’s legacy in a different way, one that asks: How do we appreciate his art while addressing its problematic origin? Can we reconcile our obligations to both?

Ethnomusicologist Mick Moloney, musician Jerron “Blindboy” Paxton, arts curator and creator Leni Sloan, music journalist and Stephen Foster historian Ken Emerson, IAC director of programming Rachael Gilkey come together to discuss where we go from here.