Born on July 4, 1826, in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, Foster displayed a strong inclination toward music at an early age. However, he had very little formal musical instruction. Beginning in 1846, he worked as a book keeper for his brother in Cincinnati; and at this time, he wrote many songs which quickly gained popularity. "O Susannah," "Uncle Ned," and others were published in Songs of the Sable Harmonists in 1848.
Returning to Pennsylvania in 1849, he wrote more songs in his own distinct minstrel mode. And after concluding a beneficial agreement for performance rights with Edwin P. Christy, he composed some of his most famous songs: "Old Folks at Home" ("Swanee River"), "My Old Kentucky Home," "Massa‚s in de Cold, Cold Ground," "Camptown Races," "Nelly Bly," "JeanieWith the Light Brown Hair," "Old Black Joe," and "Beautiful Dreamer."
Many of Foster's songs have entered into the treasury of American "folk" music