by Stephen Collins Foster, 1826-1864
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 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 ten thousand copies sold earned just over $200 dollars for Foster. 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" were reverted back to Jane and to Foster's daughter Marion in 1879.