He wrote the songs modern children use to learn music, but Stephen Foster's influence extends well beyond weekly piano lessons. That's one reason Harrisburg PBS affiliate WITF is producing "Stephen Foster," a documentary about the Pittsburgh-born songwriter.
Yesterday a film crew from the station was at Allegheny Cemetery, where Foster was buried in 1864.
The 90-minute documentary is co-written by co-producer Randall MacLowry and Ken Emerson, author of "Doo-dah! Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture."
Co-producer Beth Hager said they have worked closely with Deane Root of the Foster Memorial Hall Collection at the University of Pittsburgh and other historians, including Arthur Schlesinger and Spencer Crew of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
"I've known [Emerson] for a number of years and I knew he was doing this research that is so compelling and reflective of the beginnings of American popular culture," Hager said.
"We thought it would be a good opportunity because it's visually strong and the music is just wonderful."
Hager said the documentary also deals with the perpetuation of racial stereotypes through popular music and culture.
Plans call for the WITF crew to return for more filming in and around Pittsburgh with broadcast of "Stephen Foster" expected in 2000.
"We don't have a commitment from PBS, but we have a strong letter of support," Hager said. "They're very interested in this programming. I don't have any reason to believe it won't be shown nationally in prime time."
JOE SAID HE WOULD: Even before his bout with lung cancer, WTAE's Joe DeNardo had plans to curtail his work schedule in 1999. And he has.
Although still in the credits for the 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts with Stephen Cropper, DeNardo is only working the 5 p.m. hour now.
"It's wonderful, absolutely wonderful," DeNardo said of his new schedule. "I get home and have dinner with my wife. I'm extremely happy. They've pretty much set me up in any fashion that makes me happy."
DeNardo said he wants viewers to know he's not being pushed out, that it's his choice to back off a little.
"Most people want to stay forever, and I didn't," DeNardo said. "They didn't want me to leave, and they made me a very attractive offer with respect to scheduling and the amount of time I'd be there."
DeNardo works about five hours a day now, and although he could move to another newscast later in the year, he said he'll continue to work just five hours a day.
"Wherever they decide they think I'd be most valuable, we'd talk about it," DeNardo said. "That's where I am right now."
Cropper is handling weather duties at 6 and 11 p.m.
Asked about his health, DeNardo said he feels fine. His only concern: "I'm gaining too much weight."
He's taped three public service announcements of varying lengths that encourage smokers to quit and those who don't smoke to never start.
DeNardo quit smoking three years before his lung cancer was detected last summer.
"There's no bells and whistles, it's just me with a black background behind me," DeNardo said. "This was our idea, and I can't tell you how many responses I've had from people who have stopped smoking."