What Is the State Song of Kentucky?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 30 September 2019
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The state song of Kentucky is "My Old Kentucky Home," believed to have been composed by Stephen Collins Foster in 1852 and published by Firth, Pound and Company of New York in 1853. The song was originally titled "Poor Uncle Tom, Good Night!" and it is believed that Foster wished to capitalize on the success of Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1851 novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin." He may have later changed the title to increase the song's appeal with audiences in the American South, many of whom did not approve of Beecher Stowe's work. "My Old Kentucky Home" was officially designated the state song of Kentucky on 19 March 1928. The lyrics of the first verse were slightly altered in 1986, to remove racial slurs deemed inappropriate and offensive.

Legend has it that Foster took his inspiration for the song that would become "My Old Kentucky Home" from a visit to his relations, the Rowans, in Bardstown, Kentucky. According to this legend, Foster was impressed by the Rowans' impressive home, dubbed Federal Hill Mansion. Historians point out, however, that there is no record of Foster ever visiting Bardstown. The lyrics of the state song of Kentucky are furthermore inconsistent with the idea that Foster felt inspired by a visit to Bardstown's Federal Hill Mansion, in that they do not make reference to the home or its grounds at all. The song instead makes reference to a humble cabin.


"My Old Kentucky Home" is traditionally played at sporting events in Kentucky. The Kentucky Derby is known for playing the state song of Kentucky during the post parade. The tradition is believed to have begun in 1921 with the victory of the Kentucky-bred horse Behave Yourself. The University of Louisville marching band has undertaken this traditional performance annually since 1936.

The University of Kentucky, located in Lexington, also uses the state song of Kentucky as a traditional part of sporting events. The university's football team traditionally listens to this song before each of their home games. The university also plays the song at basketball home games, generally after the game is complete. Team cheerleaders and fans are generally expected to be quiet during these renditions of "My Old Kentucky Home." Supporters of the team are usually asked to hold out their right hands, with index fingers raised, as a show of support for the team.


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