Pittsburgh is proud to be the birthplace of Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864). What makes us especially pleased, though, is that Foster’s music is regularly reinterpreted and performed today. Especially relevant might be his “Hard Times Come Again No More,” a song written in 1854 when Pittsburgh was experiencing an economic slump, high unemployment and a cholera epidemic. Sounds all too familiar, except for the cholera.
Here are just a handful of the many recorded performances of “Hard Times Come Again No More” that we have:
- For a country-western feel, try fiddler Joe Weed’s version on his Swanee album with vocalists Laurie Lewis and Tim O’Brien.
- Gospel great Mavis Staples performs a heartfelt rendition on the diverse Beautiful Dreamer compilation of Foster’s songs.
- I’ve never heard jazz drummer extraordinaire Elvin Jones play such a straight-ahead beat as on Bill Frisell’s instrumental “Hard Times.”
- Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, bassist Edgar Meyer, and violinist Mark O’Connor’s Appalachian Journey includes a musical visit to Pittsburgh with James Taylor singing Foster’s song.
- You just can’t have enough brass band interpretations of popular songs! Check out the “Hard Times Waltz” on the Chestnut Brass Company’s Foster for Brass disc.
- Finally, Pittsburgh’s own Dear Friends ensemble, which specializes in 19th century American music, recorded an especially reverent version.
Of course, if you want to perform your own “Hard Times Come Again No More,” grab a music score!