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First Posted: May 7, 2012, 2012
May 16, 2012

Song: My Old Kentucky Home


Stephen Foster

"My Old Kentucky Home" is a minstrel song by Stephen Foster (1826-1864), probably composed in 1852. It was published as "My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night" in January 1853 by Firth, Pond, & Co. of New York. The song was introduced by Christy's Minstrels the same year.


Sheet music, 10th edition, 1892, Music by: Stephen Foster, Lyrics by: Stephen Foster
Published: New York: Firth, Pond & Co. (January 1853, Language: English, Form: Strophic with chorus
Original artist: Christy's Minstrels

Foster allegedly composed the song after visiting a relative's home at Bardstown, Kentucky called Federal Hill, but scholars have discounted the allegation. Richard Jackson believes Foster took inspiration from Harriett Beecher Stowe's 1851 bestseller Uncle Tom's Cabin, and hoped to exploit its popularity. In Foster's sketchbook, the song was titled "Poor Uncle Tom, Good Night" and each verse ended with the line "Den poor Uncle Tom, good night." Jackson describes the song as "one of [Foster's] most appealing nostalgia pieces". Abolitionist Frederick Douglass thought the song stimulated "the sympathies for the slave, in which anti-slavery principles take root and flourish." The song described originally an everyday scene on a slave plantation and was a beloved song in minstrel shows.

"My Old Kentucky Home" became the official state song of Kentucky on March 19, 1928 by an act of the Kentucky legislature. In 1986, Japanese students visiting the Kentucky General Assembly sang the song as a gesture of respect, but Carl Hines, the only black member of the Kentucky House of Representatives, was quoted as saying that the lyrics "convey connotations of racial discrimination that are not acceptable". Within days, Hines was sponsoring a bill to revise the lyrics, and, with the passage of House Resolution 159, the word "darkies" was changed to "people".

Foster's composition is the official song of the Kentucky Derby. As early as 1930, it was played to accompany the Post Parade; the University of Louisville Marching Band has played the song for all but a few years since 1936. In 1982, Churchill Downs honored Foster by establishing the Stephen Foster Handicap. Both the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky bands play the song at their schools' football and basketball games, and the song has been heard in many films including The Little Colonel; Gone With the Wind; The Story of Seabiscuit; The Human Comedy; and the Bugs Bunny cartoon Southern Fried Rabbit.

Lyrics to My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night (1853)

Words and music by Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864)

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,
'Tis summer, the darkies are gay,
The corn top's ripe and the meadows 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!

CHORUS
Weep no more, my lady,
Oh! weep no more to-day!
We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home,
For the old Kentucky Home far away.

They hunt no more for possum and the coon
On the meadow, the hill, and the shore,
They sing no more by the glimmer of the moon,
On the bench by the old cabin door.
The day goes by like a shadow o're the heart,
With sorrow where all was delight:
The time has come when the darkies have to part,
Then my old Kentucky Home, good-night!

CHORUS
Weep no more, my lady,
Oh! weep no more to-day!
We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home,
For the old Kentucky Home far away.

The head must bow and the back will have to bend,
Wherever the darkey may go:
A few more days, and the trouble all will end
In the field where the sugar-canes grow.
A few more days for to tote the weary load,
No matter, 'twill never be light,
A few more days till we totter on the road,
Then my old Kentucky Home, good-night!

CHORUS
Weep no more, my lady,
Oh! weep no more to-day!
We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home,
For the old Kentucky Home far away.


My Old Kentucky Home: Words and Music by: Stephen C. Foster

From Kentucky Revised Statutes Annotated, Chapter 2.100: "LRC Note: The modern version of 'My Old Kentucky Home' was adopted during the 1986 Regular Session of the General Assembly by the House of Representatives in House Resolution 159 and the Senate in Senate Resolution 114.

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!

Chorus:
Weep no more, my lady,
Oh weep no more today!
We will sing one song for the old Kentucky home,
For the old Kentucky home far away.

They hunt no more for the 'possum and the coon,
On meadow, the hill and the shore,
They sing no more by the glimmer of the moon,
On the bench by that old cabin door;
The day goes by like a shadow o'er the heart,
With sorrow where all was delight;
The time has come when the people have to part,
Then my old Kentucky home, good night!

Chorus:
Weep no more, my lady,
Oh weep no more today!
We will sing one song for the old Kentucky home,
For the old Kentucky home far away.

The head must bow and the back will have to bend,
Wherever the people may go;
A few more days and the trouble all will end
In the field where sugar-canes may grow;
A few more days for to tote the weary load,
No matter, 'twill never be light,
A few more days till we totter on the road,
Then my old Kentucky home, good night!


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