My Old Kentucky Home

In the world of sports, there is not a more moving moment than when the horses step onto the track for the Kentucky Derby post parade and the band strikes up "My Old Kentucky Home."

"My Old Kentucky Home"By Stephen Foster 
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 my old Kentucky home
For the old Kentucky home, far away.

History and Tradition of "My Old Kentucky Home"

Although there is no definitive history on the playing of the Stephen Foster ballad as a Derby Day tradition, it is believed to have originated in 1921 for the 47th running of the classic. The Louisville Courier-Journal in its May 8, 1921, edition reported, "To the strains of 'My Old Kentucky Home,' Kentuckians gave vent their delight. For Kentucky triumphed in the Derby." The story refers to the popular victory of the Kentucky-owned and bred Behave Yourself.

The actual year the song was played as the horses were led onto the track to begin the Derby post parade is also unclear. A 1929 news account written by the legendary Damon Runyon reported that the song was played periodically throughout Derby Day. A report by the former Philadelphia Public Ledger provides evidence that 1930 may have been the first year the song was played as the horses were led to the post parade - "When the horses began to leave the paddock and the song 'My Old Kentucky Home' was coming from the radio, the cheering started."

Since 1936, with only a few exceptions, the song has been performed by the University of Louisville Marching Band as the horses make their way from the paddock to the starting gate.

The composer of the song, Stephen Foster, died in New York's Bowery district Jan. 10, 1864, at the age of 38.

To honor the composer, Churchill Downs created the Stephen Foster Handicap in 1982. The race for 3-year-olds and older at 1 1/8 miles, has grown in popularity and now serves as a Grade II event with a purse of $750,000, the richest stakes at Churchill Downs besides the Derby.

Some other melodies Foster composed include "Beautiful Dreamer," "Suwanee River" and "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair." For Kentuckians and the countless race fans who have taken in the Kentucky Derby in person or via radio or television, Foster will best be remembered for his moving ballad now forever intertwined with the “Run for the Roses.”