This year’s Kentucky Derby will be run Saturday, with the state song being played before the horse race despite calls to end the musical tradition.
“My Old Kentucky Home,” written by Stephen Foster, traditionally has been performed pre-race by the University of Louisville’s marching band.
The song, however, is said to be about a slave’s lament, and the original lyrics used controversial wording about Black people.
When last year’s race was held on Labor Day Weekend due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Churchill Downs presented what it called a “thoughtfully and appropriately modified” version of the song, which was performed by a bugler without any lyrics, according to Spectrum News 1.
It also was preceded by a moment of silence and a reflection at its conclusion as racial justice protests were steady in Louisville after Breonna Taylor, a Black woman, was killed by police.
WLKY reported Friday that this year the song will be played as usual.
However, Churchill Downs did not respond to a question asking if there would be any changes as there were last year. Thus, it’s unclear if the university band will perform or if lyrics will be shown on a large screen to an expected crowd of nearly 45,000 fans. And if lyrics are shown, will they be different lyrics.
The Kentucky Derby website said, “It’s unclear when [“My Old Kentucky Home”] became the definitive song for the Kentucky Derby, but some report it was played as early as 1921 for the 47th running.”
Pastor Timothy Findley, with Kingdom Life Center, has called on Churchill to make changes.
“If we’re going to do the right thing, if we’re going to do the thing that moves our community forward, moves our city forward, and shows that we have sensitivity to what has happened in the past and a mind to move forward in the future, the song needs to be removed. I don’t even understand why this is such a difficult thing,” Findley told WLKY on Thursday.
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