Despite pushback from the Left during the chaotic months of 2020 and 2021, the state song of Kentucky, “My Old Kentucky Home” was played before the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in 2021 and will be played again this year, 2023. The event, in making that decision, has refused to bow to its woke critics and cancel the song, which was first played at the race in 1921 and has been played every year since.
The controversy over the song began in 2020 and heated up in 2021, with woke critics demanding the derby nix the song. Newsweek reported on the controversy surrounding the song at the time, saying, “while some people consider the song to be a powerful condemnation of slavery,” others have a problem with “its original title and lyrics, and the contexts in which it has been performed, including at minstrel shows.”
Despite the criticism from the woke left, even Smithsonian Magazine described the song as “a condemnation of Kentucky’s enslavers who sold husbands away from their wives and mothers away from their children,” and as “the lament of an enslaved person who has been forcibly separated from his family and his painful longing to return to the cabin with his wife and children.”
But, as usual, the woke mob didn’t care about facts, history, or tradition. It cared about trying to force a beloved event to cancel a beloved aspect of itself, thus bending the knee before those who hate it. Fortunately, the Kentucky Derby refused and played the song despite the woke attacks.
Yet better, the Kentucky Derby has stuck by that decision and will play the song this year as well, as Tonya Abeln, Churchill Downs VP of Corporate Communications, said. In her words:
“We give careful considerations to all of our traditions year after year. And this one in particular we’ve engaged in really meaningful conversations with the community and with our fans. And with that said, it’s the state song of Kentucky and we’ll be singing it before this year’s Kentucky Derby.”
“It is the state song of Kentucky. To our knowledge there isn’t any larger discussion about that changing. If that were to happen, we’d certainly respond to that.”
Describing the history of “My Old Kentucky Home” on its “traditions” page, the Kentucky Derby’s website says:
In the world of sports, there is not a more moving moment than when the horses step onto the track for the Kentucky Derby post parade and the band strikes up “My Old Kentucky Home” and 160,000+ people sing along.
Although there is no definitive history on the playing of the Stephen Foster ballad as a Derby Day tradition, it is believed to have originated in 1921 for the 47th running. The Louisville Courier-Journal in its May 8, 1921, edition reported, “To the strains of ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’ Kentuckians gave vent 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 unclear. 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.
For reference, the lyrics of the song are:
“The sun shines bright in My Old Kentucky home,/’Tis summer, and 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 My Old Kentucky Home, far away.”
Featured image credit: By The original uploader was Sayeth at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Milk's Favorite Cookie., Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4088398
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