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] The song was introduced by Christy's Minstrels the same year.[4]

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.[5] In Foster's sketchbook, the song was originally entitled "Poor Uncle Tom, Good-Night!," but was altered by Foster as "My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!". Abolitionist Frederick Douglass thought the song stimulated "the sympathies for the slave, in which anti-slavery principles take root and flourish."[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.

Public sentiment[edit]

The song "My Old Kentucky Home" establishes a decisive moment within Stephen Foster's career in regards to his personal perspective of slavery. Having acknowledged the adversities endured by enslaved servants in Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," Foster wrote "My Old Kentucky Home" to expose the hardships associated with the institution of slavery. Upon its release, "My Old Kentucky Home" grew quickly in popularity, selling thousands of copies. The song held popularity for over a decade and throughout the American Civil War. 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. After the war, Federal Hill continued to be frequented by tourists throughout the remainder of the 19th century.[7] In 1923, Federal Hill mansion and the remaining 200 acres were purchased by the Commonwealth of Kentucky as an historic shrine to protect and preserve the farm in honor of Foster's anti-slavery ballad. In 1928, the Commonwealth of Kentucky's legislation voted to make Foster's ballad its state song. As a result, ultimately, Foster's composition "My Old Kentucky Home," and therefore Federal Hill, contributed to the altering of public sentiment towards the institution of slavery, helping to lead to the end of slavery in America. Today, Federal Hill remains a state historic site charged with the mission to provide context to the anti-slavery movement in the United States.

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.[8] 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,[9] and the song has been heard in many films including The Little Colonel; Gone With the Wind; The Story of Seabiscuit; The Human Comedy; Animal Crackers; and the Bugs Bunny cartoon Southern Fried Rabbit.

1986 alteration[edit]

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 member of the state representative introduced House Resolution 159, which altered the lyrics to amend the word "darkies" to "people" at all official state functions involving the performance of the song.[10]

Official version[edit]

Oh! The sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home,
Tis' summer, the people are gay,
The corn-top's ripe and the meadow's in the bloom,
Whilst 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 knockin' 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 the Old Kentucky Home far away.


  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. ^ William Emmett Studwell (1997). The Americana song reader. Psychology Press. p. 110. 
  5. ^ "My Old Kentucky Home State Park  » The History of My Old Kentucky Home". Retrieved July 10, 2015. 
  6. ^ PressRoom (April 9, 2001). "American Experience on KET profiles "My Old Kentucky Home" author, Stephen Foster". KET. Retrieved July 11, 2011. 
  7. ^ "History - My Old Kentucky Home - Recreation Parks - Kentucky State Parks". Retrieved July 10, 2015. 
  8. ^ "My Old Kentucky Home: Official Song of the Kentucky Derby". Retrieved September 2011. 
  9. ^ "My Old Kentucky Home". University Place Patch. May 2011. Retrieved September 2011. 
  10. ^ The change was adopted following passage of the House resolution and Senate Resolution 111. "The Kentucky State Song: Adoption of State Song". Retrieved September 2011. 

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