What is the Story Behind My Old Kentucky Derby

Chances are you’ve heard the song, “My Old Kentucky Home,” at some point, especially if you live in the state considering it’s the official song of Kentucky. The song’s name even appears on the state’s quarter. It’s performed at the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs every year by the University of Louisville Marching Band as the horses make their way onto the track. Everyone seems to know the words as they are today, but there’s actually some words missing from the original version.

Kentucky Derby Song

The song was originally written in 1853 by songwriter, Stephen Foster, and was inspired by the famous anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was published in 1852 by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The original name of the song is said to be “Poor Uncle Tom, Good Night.”

It’s believed that the song became a part of the long list of traditions at the Kentucky Derby in 1921, and there’s a mention in the May 8, 1921 edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal that states, “To the strains of ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’ Kentuckians gave vent their delight. For Kentucky triumphed in the Derby.” reportedly in a story that referenced the horse, Behave Yourself. The horse won the 47th Kentucky Derby that same year and was Kentucky owned and bred. No one is quite sure when it was first played as the horses were coming onto the track, but many believe it was in 1929.

In 1986, a law was passed by the Kentucky General Assembly that removed the words “darkies” and “darky” and instead used the word “people.” Today, the “My Old Kentucky Home” is often sung in a shortened version which you can listen to here.

March 28, 2015 by : Posted in history No Comments

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