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Although the history of the playing of the Stephen Foster ballad on Kentucky Derby Day is uncertain, 1921 is believed to be the first year. The May 8, 1921, Louisville Courier-Journal reported, "To the strains of My Old Kentucky Home, Kentuckians gave vent their delight. For Kentucky triumphed in the Derby" in its coverage of Kentucky-owned and bred Behave Yourself winning the race.
It is not even certain which year it was first played as the horses were led onto the track for the Derby post parade. A 1929 news account written by the legendary Damon Runyon reported that the song was played periodically throughout Kentucky 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."
So you can carry on the same tradition at home, here are the lyrics for My Old Kentucky Home by Stephen Foster:
The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,
Tis summer, the people are gay;
The corn-tops ripe and the meadows 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;
Byn 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.
Official sing-a-long video with Kentucky Derby scenes and lyrics from KentuckyDerby.com
Fan video of the crowd singing along. The actual song starts about halfway through
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