My Old Kentucky Home

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This article is about the song. For the Kentucky site, see My Old Kentucky Home State Park.
For other uses, see My Old Kentucky Home (disambiguation).
"My Old Kentucky Home"
My Old Kentucky Home 10th ed.jpg
Sheet music, 10th edition, 1892(?)
Song by Christy's Minstrels
Published New York: Firth, Pond & Co. (January 1853)
Form Strophic with chorus
Composer Stephen Foster
Lyricist Stephen Foster
Language English

"My Old Kentucky Home" is an anti-slavery ballad[1] written by Stephen Foster, probably composed in 1852.[2] It was published as "My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night!" in January 1853 by Firth, Pond, & Co. of New York.[2][3] Foster likely composed the song after having been inspired by the narrative of popular anti-slavery novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin," while likely referencing imagery witnessed on his visits to the Bardstown, Kentucky farm called Federal Hill.[4] In Foster's sketchbook, the song was originally entitled "Poor Old Uncle Tom, Good-Night!," but was altered by Foster as "My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!". Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist, wrote in his 1855 autobiography My Bondage and My Freedom that the song awakens "the sympathies for the slave, in which antislavery principles take root, grow, and flourish."[5][6]


Within the first verse, "My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!" describes the natural beauty and joyous feelings associated with a Kentucky farm landscape. The chorus of the song that begins, "weep no more, my lady" acknowledges absence from this environment and a longing by the narrator to return.

In its entirety, which contains three verses and one chorus, "My Old Kentucky Home" divulges the narrative of an enslaved servant that compares the relative joys of life on a Kentucky farm with what they envision their new life to be after having been sold to a sugar plantation in the coastal region of the south. The lyric repeated in the first, second, and third verses, "By'n by hard times comes a knocking at the door, then My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!" references that the Kentucky farm on which the narrator has lived is experiencing financial difficulties that have been solved by the selling-off of its enslaved servants.

The narrator reveals that the majority of his peers have been sold from the Kentucky farm leaving only few behind. It is revealed in later verses,"A few more days till we totter on the road" that the narrator has also been sold to a plantation further south, where it is suggested that labor is more intense and there is little regard for the slave's personal health or happiness. The narrator suggests that he will likely perish as a result of being sold-south, and is acknowledging the days until his departure from his beloved Kentucky home.

Creation and career impact[edit]

The creation of the song "My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!" established a decisive moment within Stephen Foster's career in regards to his personal beliefs on the institution of slavery and is an example of the common theme of the loss of home, which is prevalent throughout Foster's work. In March 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe's abolitionist novel Uncle Tom's Cabin appeared in bookstores in Foster's home town of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The novel, written about the plight of an enslaved servant in Kentucky, greatly impacted Foster's future work in song-writing by altering the tone of his music to sympathize the position of the enslaved servant. In his notebook, Foster penned the lyrics inspired by Stowe's novel, initially named "Poor Old Uncle Tom, Good-Night!" with distinct Kentucky imagery that according to Foster's brother Morrison, was inspired by what Foster had seen during visits to the Federal Hill farm owned by Foster's cousins the Rowan family of Bardstown, Kentucky. Foster ultimately removed references to Stowe's book, renaming the work, "My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!"

The song "My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!" is one of many examples of the loss of home in Foster's work. Biographers believe that this common theme originated from the loss of Foster's childhood home, known as the "White Cottage," an estate his mother referred to as an Eden, in reference to the Garden of Eden. The family was financially supported largely by the family patriarch William Foster, who owned vast holdings, which were lost through bad business dealings that left the family destitute and unable to keep possession of the White Cottage. The Foster family was forced to leave the estate when Stephen Foster was three years old. After years of financial instability and recounts of fond memories of the White Cottage shared with Stephen by his parents and siblings, the impact of longing for a permanent home that was no longer available to Stephen greatly influenced his writing with deep impulses for the nostalgia of home.[7]

Public sentiment[edit]

Upon its release in 1853 by Christy's Minstrels,[8] "My Old Kentucky Home" grew quickly in popularity, selling thousands of copies. The song's popular and nostalgic theme of the loss of home resonated with the public and further resolved to stimulate strong feelings in support of the abolitionist movement in the United States. Famous African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass promoted the song, among other similar songs of the time period, in his autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom as evoking a sentimental theme towards the enslaved servant that promotes and popularizes the cause of abolishing slavery in the United States. Douglass commented, "They [My Old Kentucky Home, etc.] are heart songs, and the finest feelings of human nature are expressed in them. [They] can make they heart sad as well as merry, and can call forth a tear as well as a smile. They awaken the sympathies for the slave," he stated, "in which anti-slavery principles take root and flourish."[9]

The song held popularity for over a decade and throughout the American Civil War. The song's reach throughout the United States and popularity has been attributed to soldiers of the war, who passed the tune from location to location during the war's tenure. Soldiers of the war, both Union and Confederate, visited Federal Hill by the thousands to see the landmark that lent visual inspiration for Foster's song both during the war and after. After the war, Federal Hill continued to be frequented by tourists throughout the remainder of the 19th century.[10]

After the American Civil War had ended and the institution of slavery was abolished, the song, "My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night!," which encouraged and inspired abolitionist views in the United States thereafter continued to be held in high esteem by the public for its first verse and chorus, which evoke the second major theme of the composition, the loss of home and the nostalgia associated with returning home. The typical reduction of the song's title from "My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!," to "My Old Kentucky Home" and the song itself to a composition containing only the first verse and chorus established a second life for the song which perpetuated its' relevancy and popularity into the 20th century.[11]

In the early 20th century, many states passed legislation to declare state songs. "My Old Kentucky Home," being the most popular of songs written about the Commonwealth of Kentucky was chosen in 1928 by the state's legislation who voted to make Foster's ballad Kentucky's state song due to the first verse's concentration on the beauty of Kentucky's natural landscape, while citing the global popularity of the song during the time period as helpful in promoting the Commonwealth.[12]

The first verse and chorus comprises both Kentucky's state song, and 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.[13] The University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, Murray State University, Eastern Kentucky University, and Western Kentucky University bands play the song at their schools' football and basketball games,[14]

In 1986, Japanese students visiting the Kentucky General Assembly sang the original version of the song as a gesture of respect. Carl Hines (D-Louisville), a state representative, introduced House Resolution 159, which expurgated the lyrics to amend the word "darkies" to "people" at all official state functions involving the performance of the song.[15]

Modern impact[edit]

Today, the song My Old Kentucky Home remains an important composition due to its role in the evolution of American songwriting and as one of the most influential songs in American culture. The composition remains popular due to one of two original themes of the song, which includes the romanticized nostalgia of a desire to return to the familiarity and refuge home. 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 (see "spin-offs" below) has further engrained the song in American culture.[7]

Cover artists[edit]

Spin-off versions[edit]

  • "Farewell Kentucky Home," George B. Gookins (1895)
  • "She's The Sunshine Of Her Old Kentucky Home," Harry Taylor, Howard King (1907)
  • "I'm Longing For My Old Kentucky Home," J. B. Mullen, (1907)
  • "There's A Rose In Old Kentucky That's Blooming Just For Me," Ernesto Natiello, Chesney Brown (1914)
  • "We'll Have a Jubilee In My Old Kentucky Home," Walter Donaldson, Coleman Goetz, (1915)
  • "You'll Always Find Alot Of Sunshine In My Old Kentucky Home," Ruby Cowan, Lew Brown (1918)
  • "My New Kentucky Home," M. Witmark & Sons (1920)
  • "Kentucky Home," Abe Brashen (1921)
  • "Tuck Me To Sleep In My Old Kentucky Home," Words by Sam M. Lewis, Joe Young. Music by George W. Meyer, (1921)
  • "Happy And Go Lucky In My Old Kentucky Home," Billy Murray & Ed Smalle with the Virginians (1924)
  • "My Old Kentucky Home (Turpentine & Dandelion Wine)," Randy Newman (1967)
  • "My Kentucky Home," KD, Demi, Goodfella Child (2005)
  • "My Old Kentucky Home," Nappy Roots (2006)

Appearance in popular film[edit]

The song "My Old Kentucky Home" first appeared in film in the first animated cartoon featuring audio. The animation, entitled "My Old Kentucky Home," was created in 1926.[citation needed] The song has appeared in many movies, films, and animation productions throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.



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 the Old Kentucky Home,
For My Old Kentucky Home far a-way![citation needed]



  1. ^ The modern replacement of "darkies" with "people" is shown in brackets.


  1. ^ "My Old Kentucky Home: A Song with a Checkered Past". studio360. Retrieved July 10, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Richard Jackson (1974). Stephen Foster song book: original sheet music of 40 songs. Courier Dover Press. p. 177. 
  3. ^ "My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night!". 2008. Retrieved September 2011. 
  4. ^ "My Old Kentucky Home State Park  » The History of My Old Kentucky Home". Retrieved July 10, 2015. 
  5. ^ PressRoom (April 9, 2001). "American Experience on KET profiles "My Old Kentucky Home" author, Stephen Foster". KET. Retrieved July 11, 2011. 
  6. ^ Douglass, Frederick. My Bondage and My Freedom: Part I- Life as a Slave, Part II- Life as a Freeman, with an introduction by James M'Cune Smith. New York and Auburn: Miller, Orton & Mulligan (1855); ed. John Stauffer, Random House (2003) ISBN 0-8129-7031-4.
  7. ^ a b MacLowry, Randall. "American Experience, Stephen Foster". Public Broadcasting System. Retrieved December 23, 2015. 
  8. ^ William Emmett Studwell (1997). The Americana song reader. Psychology Press. p. 110. 
  9. ^ Douglass, Frederick (1855). My Bondage, My Freedom. Miller, Orton & Mulligan. p. 462. Retrieved January 25, 2016. 
  10. ^ "History - My Old Kentucky Home - Recreation Parks - Kentucky State Parks". Retrieved July 10, 2015. 
  11. ^ Clark, Thomas D. (February 5, 2015) [1977]. "The Slavery Background of Foster's My Old Kentucky Home". In Harrison, Lowell H.; Dawson, Nelson L. A Kentucky Sampler: Essays from The Filson Club History Quarterly 1926--1976. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky. pp. 100–117. Retrieved January 25, 2016. 
  12. ^ "The Kentucky State Song". Netstate. Retrieved January 25, 2016. 
  13. ^ "My Old Kentucky Home: Official Song of the Kentucky Derby". Retrieved September 2011. 
  14. ^ "My Old Kentucky Home". University Place Patch. May 2011. Retrieved September 2011. 
  15. ^ The change was adopted following passage of the House resolution and Senate Resolution 111. The change has further been adopted in private performances of the song."The Kentucky State Song: Adoption of State Song". Retrieved September 2011. 
  16. ^ Aldrich, Mark. A Catalog of Folk Song Settings for Wind Band, p. 74 (Hal Leonard Corporation, 2004).
  17. ^ Foster, Stephen. Stephen Foster Song Book: Original Sheet Music of 40 Songs, p. 67 (Courier Corporation, 1974).

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]