Stephen Foster | 2000
Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) was the first great American songwriter. His melodies are so much a part of American history and culture that people think they're folk tunes. All in all, he composed some 200 songs, including "Oh! Susanna," "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair" and "Camptown Races." Though he virtually invented popular music as it recognized today, Foster's personal life was tragic and riddled with contradiction. His marriage was largely unhappy, he never made much money from his work and he died at the age of 37 a nearly penniless alcoholic on the Bowery in New York.