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“My Old Kentucky Home”

After supper, when night and lamplight came, Pa took his fiddle out of the box and tuned it lovingly. – …He played and sang “My Old Kentucky Home” and “Swanee River”… — On the Banks of Plum Creek, Chapter 30, “Going to Town”

My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night was written and composed by Stephen Foster and copyrighted in 1853, two years after his successful “Old Folks at Home.” It is said to refer to the home of his father’s cousin, Judge John Rowan, one time United States Senator. The “old Kentucky home” was called Federal Hill and located at Bardstown, Kentucky, now a part of My Old Kentucky Home State Park. Despite numerous stories to the contrary, Stephen Foster’s supposed visits to Federal Hill as an adult cannot be proven, and most of the stories linking Federal Hill to the song originated decades after publication of “My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night.”

The original title of “My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night” was “Poor Uncle Tom, Good Night,” implying that Uncle Tom, not the dwelling, was the intended hero of the song. In 1851, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin had been published; it’s possible that this was Foster’s inspiration. Although he had sold or given away the rights to a number of his songs, Firth, Pond, & Company published “My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night” with credit to Foster for both words and music.

Stephen Foster Collins (1826-1864) was born in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, east of Pittsburgh. A musically gifted child, Stephen was educated in the private schools of Pennsylvania and worked as a bookkeeper for a steamship company in Cincinnati as a young adult. It was during this period that Foster made arrangements with several publishers to pay him royalties on future songs, usually 2 cents per copy. Foster married in 1850 and the couple had one child, a daughter.

In today’s music business, Foster would have earned millions from performances and sale of his music, but in the 1850s and 60s, it was a hard way to earn a living. Following an accident in New York in January 1864, Stephen Foster died with only thirty-eight cents in his pocket. His music lives on, in over two hundred songs and instrumentals from a twenty-year period.

Stephen Foster songs mentioned in the Little House books include: “Oh! Susanna,” “Uncle Ned,” “Nelly Was a Lady,” “Oh Boys, Carry Me Along,” “De Camptown Races,” “Old Folks at Home,” and “My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night.”


1. The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,
‘Tis summer, the darkies 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 come a knocking at the door,
Then my old Kentucky Home, good night!

[chorus] Weep no more, my lady, oh! weep no more today!
We will sing one song
For the Old Kentucky Home,
For the Old Kentucky Home, far away.

2. They hunt no more for the possum and the coon
On the meadow, the hill and the shore,
They sing no more by the glimmer of the moon,
on the bench by the old cabin door.
The day goes by like a shadow o’er the heart,
With sorrow where all was delight:
The time has come when the darkies have to part,
Then my Old Kentucky Home, good night!

3. The head must bow and the back will have to bend
Wherever the darkey may go:
A few more days, and the trouble all will end
In the field where the sugar-canes grow.
A few more days fo to tote the weary load,
No matter ’twill never be light,
A few more days till we totter on the road,
Then my old Kentucky Home, good night!

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Click on the above images to view a copy of original sheet music of “My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night.”    


“My Old Kentucky Home” (BPC 30; PG)