Saturday, November 24, 2018

My Old Kentucky Home

I'm posting this song today because it's the day of the annual Bourbon Bowl (aka Governor's Cup), when Louisville takes on its in-state rival Kentucky in football. This year's game is in Louisville's Cardinal Stadium.
kentucky • UK • wildcats • cats
From Appalachian Christmas 7, Red Barn Radio (Lexington KY), December 2015:

This is a beautiful rendition of this song, but I could've done without the grinning. The first stanza seems happy enough until the final line, and the refrain is obviously sad. The second stanza is clearly quite sad, and the third stanza is downright tragic.

There are two keys to understanding Kentucky's state song which most Kentuckians probably don't realize (since we only bother learning the first stanza, and that in altered language): 
  1. The lyrics have been cleaned up, with the three references (one in each stanza) to African Americans (called darkies) having been changed to people in the first two stanzas and poor folks in the third.
  2. The other key is a reference to the field where the sugar canes grow. Obviously no sugar cane grows in Kentucky. So in the end, this song is about enslaved people being sold "down the river" from Kentucky to Louisiana to a life of horror and early death.
Kudos to the Local Honeys for singing all 3 stanzas. But I'd really like to have seen a more serious demeanor on their part. True weeping is called for by the end. So strong was My Old Kentucky Home's impact on antebellum America that Frederick Douglas promoted the song, and it is said to have influenced anti-slavery sentiment where none had existed before. We criticize it now, but back then it was quite progressive—maybe even abolitionist—in its message.