Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair

(1854)
In 1850, Stephen Foster married Jane Denny McDowell, whose nickname was "Jennie." The marriage was short-lived, however, as the pair suffered numerous conflicts and ultimately separated in 1853. Perhaps in an attempt to win back his wife, Foster composed "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair" in 1854.

The opening texts of each stanza support the speculation that the song was written with Jane in mind: "I dream of Jeanie" (verse one); "I long for Jeanie" (verse two); and "I sigh for Jeanie" (verse three).

While today "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair" remains one of Foster's most beloved parlor ballads, the song was virtually unknown during its time. When it was first published, the royalties on the 10,000 copies sold earned Foster just over $200. However, Foster, who experienced financial difficulty through most of his career, had to sell the rights to "Jeanie" (as well as other songs, including "Old Folks at Home") to make ends meet. After his death, the rights to "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair" reverted back to Jane and their daughter Marion, in 1879.

--Library of Congress

Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair
by Stephen Foster

I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair,
Borne like a vapor, on the summer air:
I see her tripping where the bright streams play,
Happy as the daisies that dance on her way.
Many were the wild notes her merry voice would pour,
Many were the blithe birds that warbled them o'er:
Oh! I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair,
Floating, like a vapor on the soft summer air.

I long for Jeanie with the day dawn smile,
Radiant in gladness, warm winning guile;
I hear her melodies, like joys gone by,
Sighing round my heart o'er the fond hopes that die:
Sighing like the night wind and sobbing like the rain,
Wailing for the lost one that comes not again:
Oh! I long for Jeanie and my heart bows low,
Nevermore to find here where the bright waters flow.

Photo: Jeanie with the light brown hair by Stephen C. Foster. New York: Firth, Pond and Co., 1854. Performing Arts Reading Room, Library of Congress.

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