Nothing screams the sport of Americana quite like the long-running horse race, The Kentucky Derby. This annual race is known for its 2km sensation which, year after year, brings out the best jockeys and the best horses and attracts crowds of fancy-hat-wearing men and women sipping their mint juleps. This 147 year old tradition is held on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Kentucky Derby is the longest-running sporting event in US history and one of the big three, the famous Triple Crown, consisting of the Preakness Stakes, the Belmont Stakes and the beloved Kentucky Derby. It is therefore no surprise that the Kentucky Derby attracts millions of spectators and thoroughbred racing fans year after year.
But just as the Kentucky Derby was over, a pressing topic that concerned social justice activists emerged, and that was the Kentucky Derby national anthem. Why has the Kentucky Derby anthem, “My Old Kentucky Home,” become a topic of controversy in recent years? Let’s put it under the magnifying glass today.
Why is the Kentucky Derby So Popular?
Ever heard of “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports” or “Running for the Roses”.? That is this purebred race. A classic tradition that year after year brings together the best of the best in the sport. It’s a prestigious tradition, without a doubt. The race features the world’s best thoroughbred horses competing for the top prize and the chance to make history. Additionally, the Kentucky Derby is the first leg of the Triple Crown, a three-race series that also includes the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. In fact, winning the Triple Crown is a rarity, and is a highly coveted feat in horse racing.
What Is the Kentucky Derby National Anthem?
Every year, as the horses take to the track for the Kentucky Derby, the crowd at Churchill Downs join in in singing the official state anthem, “My Old Kentucky Home”. The tradition of singing the lyrics to “My Old Kentucky” is one that dates back to the early 20th century and is part of the event’s pageantry and sense of showmanship.
This song, composed by Stephen Foster in 1853, evokes a feeling of nostalgia and pride among Kentuckians and competitors alike. The anthem underwent several changes in its lyrics starting in 1967 when part of the song was changed to not refer to ethnic slurs against black people and their lives during a time when slavery was rampant in the Southern United States.
As it turns out, the enduring scars of America’s troubled slavery past and its iconography resonate and ruffle feathers when things like My Old Kentucky are sung. Asking whether or not it is permissible to follow the tradition considering that the song and the lyrics are past.
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Who Wrote My Old Kentucky House?
Stephen Foster wrote “My Old Kentucky Home” in 1853. Foster was a prolific songwriter during the 19th century, composing more than 200 songs that remain popular today, including “Oh! Susanna”, “Tough Times Come Again” , “Camp Races,” and “Beautiful Dreamer.” Although Foster was not from Kentucky, his songs became synonymous with the state and its people.
Why Is My Old Kentucky Home Anthem Controversial?
The whole deal about My Old Kentucky Home’s lyrics is a matter of perception and how the song traces back to a time when slavery was still prevalent in the United States. Depending on who you ask, some people might interpret the lyrics as suggestive of a time when humans are treated as property. This interpretation has raised questions about whether My Old Kentucky Home is appropriate for a modern audience and whether it should continue to be part of the Kentucky Derby tradition.
In recent years, African American activists have called for ending “My Old Kentucky Home” as the Derby anthem because of the connection and perceived connotations of a time when slavery and racism were normalized. In 1967, parts of the national anthem were changed to stop mentioning ethnic slurs. And despite the changes, the debate over “My Old Kentucky Home” continues to split opinion and ruffle feathers.
There were two bands, who said the song should be discontinued entirely and others argued that it was an important part of Kentucky Derby history and tradition. As American society grapples with issues of race and representation and redress, the future of “My Old Kentucky Home” as the Derby anthem remains uncertain, but it retains its status as an anthem.
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