While you are working on your vocals – here is a little history and the lyrics of “My Old Kentucky Home” and the Kentucky Derby. Ironically, there is no definite history on the playing of this Stephen Foster ballad as a Derby Day tradition. Most historians feel it started 1921 for the 47th running of the classic (the year that Behave Yourself won the Derby). The Louisville Courier-Journal in its May 8, 1921, edition reported, “To the strains of ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’ Kentuckians gave their delight. For Kentucky triumphed in the Derby.” The story refers to the popular victory of the Kentucky-owned and bred Behave Yourself.
The actual year the song was played as the horses were led onto the track to begin the Derby post parade is also not known. A 1929 news account written by the legendary Damon Runyon reported that the song was played periodically throughout Derby Day. A report by the former Philadelphia Public Ledger provides evidence that 1930 may have been the first year the song was played as the horses were led to the post parade – “When the horses began to leave the paddock and the song ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ was coming from the radio, the cheering started.” Since 1936, with only a few exceptions, the song has been performed by the University of Louisville Marching Band as the horses make their way from the paddock to the starting gate.
The composer of the song, Stephen Foster, died in New York’s Bowery district Jan. 10, 1864, at the age of 38.
To honor the composer, Churchill Downs created the Stephen Foster Handicap in 1982. The race for 3-year-olds and older at 1 1/8 miles, has grown in popularity and is a Grade II event with a purse of $750,000, the richest stakes at Churchill Downs besides the Derby.
For Kentuckians and the countless race fans who have taken in the Kentucky Derby in person with Kentucky Derby Tours or via radio or television, Stephen Foster is remembered for his moving ballad now forever intertwined with the “Run for the Roses.”
Now for the lyrics for you to sing along:
The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,
Tis summer, the people are gay.
The corn-top’s ripe and the meadow’s in the bloom,
While the birds make music all the day.
The young folks roll on the little cabin floor,
All merry, all happy and bright;
By’n by hard times comes a knocking at the door
Then my old Kentucky home, Good-night!
Weep no more my lady. Oh! Weep no more today!
We will sing one song for my old Kentucky home,
For the old Kentucky home, far away.