Some states have fairly familiar state songs. Kansas has the famous, “Home on the Range,” Louisiana’s is “You Are My Sunshine,” and some of you may know that Washington’s is “Washington, My Home.” While they are all great songs, I don’t think there is one state in the country that is more attached to its song than Kentucky is to “My Old Kentucky Home.”
At every sporting event, along with the National Anthem, My Old Kentucky Home is played alongside, or is played at the end, or sometimes it is played both times. Both the University of Louisville, as well as the University of Kentucky, play it at every home football game, as well as home basketball victory.
Along with his other classics such as “Oh! Susanna,” and “Camptown Races,” Stephen Foster wrote “My Old Kentucky Home” in 1853, it became Kentucky’s official song in 1928. The song tells the story of a slave who lived in Kentucky during the 1850s, who was then sold to another plantation further south, dreaming of his ‘old Kentucky home.’ As times have changed, so have the lyrics, replacing the word “darkies” with “people” to be more politically correct. By today’s standards, it comes across as a racist song, but at the time the famous Frederick Douglas said that the song was sympathetic towards slaves.
It is unknown when the song started being played at the Kentucky Derby. It is thought to have started around 1921 to 1930, and has been played every year since it started. It is also unclear when exactly the University of Louisville Marching Band started playing the song, but their current version has been the same since Dr. Frederick Speck arranged it in 1998. While the original was three verses, the current version played at the Derby is just one verse with the chorus.
Coming from a kid who lived in University Place her entire life, Kentucky was always a far away dream. I’ve known since I was 12 that Kentucky is where I want to be, and every year I heard the band play as the lyric, “we will sing one song, for my old Kentucky home, far away,” it always meant a little something to me. Today, after seven years of dreaming, I am apart of that band. This Saturday I am going to put on the University of Louisville uniform, stand in line, and play my heart out on my silver trumpet, as a crowd of 100,000 sings along. The older members tell me it is a surreal experience, and they could care less about the race itself. It is only a few days away, and I could not be any more excited.
So turn in NBC on Saturday, and watch as 100,000 people will join in as the UofL band plays My Old Kentucky Home at the Derby!