The United States of Songs: Kentucky

by Randall Cleveland

A long time ago I was under a deadline and desperate for a blog idea. "I know," I thought, "I'll pick a song for each state in America."

"Uh, sure," my editor, Jason Toon, said. "But just to make it interesting, make it so the state name has to be in the title of the song."

"Sure!" I said, not noticing his stifled laughter, "And the song has to be about the state, not a girl in the state or a city or forest or something. This will be awesome! I'll have blog ideas for Friday taken care of for almost a year!"

And with that naive declaration, my fate was sealed. You're up, Kentucky!

The state: Kentucky
The song: "My Old Kentucky Home" by Stephen C. Foster, as performed by the Edison Male Quartet



So let's clear something up right away: if this were just "pick the best song with the state name in there somewhere," and didn't have all the rules I put on it, we would post a video to "Kentucky Rain" and call it a day. And yes, it's the official state song, but after the blowback I got with Georgia I decided that fact shouldn't disqualify a song. You can find plenty of versions of this tune, including post-late-'80s versions with more politically-correct lyrics, but I think the old-timey version speaks to the state and it's, uh, history.

Look, there's no getting around this: I don't get the whole "Southern Pride/We Shall Rise Again/Somehow It Isn't Offensive to Fly the Stars and Bars" thing. And I know Kentucky's certainly not the only state with that attitude. But in my few and admittedly-brief Kentucky experiences, it's still a pretty big deal there. I can only say that, speaking for myself, it's a pretty big turnoff as far as ever spending any time or money in your state.

Kentucky Derby Girls 2010
I also don't get the hat thing, but at least it's sort of adorable.

But still, this song works because it evokes memories and a fondness for those "simpler times," which most people I've met from Kentucky seem to prefer. It's a weird blend of celebrating tradition and history mixed with fearing the outside world and change in general. Kentuckians can easily hang with Texans when it comes to gloriously espousing all the reasons why their home state is better than any other place on earth while conveniently ignoring a lot of the bad press the place might get. And hey, bourbon. I can't write them off entirely.

I think you'll like your song, Kentucky, even if it is kind of mainstream and lacking that certain underground, "never heard it before," hipster cred. Enjoy!

Offended on behalf of Kentucky? Got a better song idea? Want to suggest a song for next week's pick, Louisiana? Let us know in the comments!


Blue Kentucky Girl

" by Emmylou Harris
Most Laughable Suggestion: "


" by Hermano

Flickr photo Kentucky Derby Girls 2010 by Kat Kellner used under a Creative Commons License.