“My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night!“ is an anti-slavery ballad written by Stephen Foster in and around 1852….and was published in January 1853 by Firth, Pond, & Co. of New York. Foster was said to have been inspired by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin….with imagery witnessed on his visits to the Bardstown, Kentucky farm called Federal Hill. In Foster’s sketchbook, the song was originally entitled “Poor Uncle Tom, Good-Night!”….but he altered it to “My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!”….when Frederick Douglass wrote in his 1855 autobiography My Bondage and My Freedom that the song “awakens sympathies for the slave, in which antislavery principles take root, grow, and flourish”
The song’s first verse and chorus are recited and sung annually at the Kentucky Derby…..after Colonel Matt Winn introduced the song as a derby tradition…..when as early as 1930, it was played to accompany the Derby Post Parade….with the University of Louisville Marching Band having played the song for all but a few years since 1936.
In 1928, “My Old Kentucky Home” was selected and adopted by the Kentucky state legislature as the state’s official song…..which has remained so, subject to one change that was made in 1986….for In that year, a Japanese youth group visiting the Kentucky General Assembly sang the song to the legislators….while using the original lyrics that included the word “darkies”….and that is when Legislator Carl Hines was offended enough by this that he subsequently introduced a resolution that would substitute the word “people” in place of “darkies” whenever the song was used by the House of Representatives….then a similar resolution was introduced by Georgia Davis Powers in the Kentucky State Senate….and the resolution was adopted by both chambers.
Today, the song My Old Kentucky Home remains an important composition due to its role in the evolution of American songwriting….plus as one of the most influential songs in American culture….and according to popular-song analysts, the appeal of the theme of ‘returning home’ is one in which listeners of “My Old Kentucky Home” are able to personally relate within their own lives.Many revisions and updates of the song have occurred throughout the past century has further ingrained the song in American culture.