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(born July 4, 1826, Lawrenceville, Pa., U.S.died Jan. 13, 1864, New York, N.Y.) U.S. songwriter. He began writing songs as a child, influenced in part by black church services he attended with the family's servant and by songs sung by black labourers. In 1842 he published Open Thy Lattice, Love, and in 1848 he sold Oh! Susanna for $100; it quickly became an international hit. He later entered into a contract with the publisher Firth, Pond & Co. He was commissioned to write songs for Edwin P. Christy's minstrel show; his Old Folks at Home became one of the most popular songs of the century. In 1857, drinking heavily and in financial difficulties, he sold all rights to his future songs to his publishers for about $1,900. In 1860 he moved to New York; he died penniless at age 37, leaving about 200 songs, including Camptown Races, My Old Kentucky Home, Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair, and Beautiful Dreamer, and he is universally regarded as the greatest American songwriter of the 19th century.
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