It’s Never Cloudy in Kentucky?
Posted by Larry Wallberg on 11/17/2009
In 1853, a New Yawk sheet music company published a song called “Poor Uncle Tom, Good Night!” by Stephen Foster. The first line of that song was:
The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home.
Whether or not Foster had actually seen a Kentucky home, old or new, is disputed, but the song was a hit. It was the “Thriller” of its day, minus the zombie outfits.
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.
Seventy-five years later, (in 1928, for those whose arithmetic is shaky), the Kentucky legislature adopted Foster’s work as the official state song. The first line was transformed, not officially, but by most singers, to:
The sun shines bright in my old Kentucky home.
Suddenly, the place was no longer some vague edifice; it was the singer’s very own house. He or she might even try to buttonhole you, grabbing your attention at the very beginning:
Oh, the sun shines bright in my old Kentucky home.
That’s the way I always heard it. Until I moved to Kentucky, I hadn’t really thought much about that song. What I didn’t know was that in 1986, the Kentucky legislature voted to remove the offensive word in the second line, changing the lyric slightly to:
‘Tis summer, the people are gay.
Fair enough. That worked for about twenty years. But recently, the song has run up against the legislature once again. The social conservatives, not wishing – even indirectly – to appear as if they support marriage between homosexuals, are urging another change to the problematic phrase. They want it to read:
‘Tis summer, the people are cheerful.
Well, that ruins the rhyme scheme and scansion of the verse, doesn’t it? So the further suggestion has been made to change the last line to:
While the birds make music all the yearful.
However, a science professor at the University of Kentucky has pointed out that (a) the year has other seasons besides summer, and (b) in most avian species, only male birds sing. As a result of these observations, a group of academics at U.K. is lobbying to change the second line to:
All seasons, the people are cheerful.
And the last line to:
While male birds make music all the yearful.
This, as you can imagine, does not sit well with everyone. Some people think that all birds – males, females, and transsexuals – should get equal time in the state song. So, given that Nature has not seen fit to make all creatures equal in their music-making capabilities, the egalitarians insist that the fourth line should be:
While birds of every gender make merry all the yearful.
That should be an end to the controversy, but a consortium of allergists is concerned about the third line. The doctors point out that many Kentuckians have sensitivities to either corn, or meadows, or both. It doesn’t seem right, the allergists say, not to warn citizens about possible dire consequences of cavorting around near potentially hazardous plants. So the allergists have posited the following third line:
You may need to take Claritin if the meadow’s in the bloom.
OK. That would seem to be that … if the song had just one verse. But unfortunately, it doesn’t, and the second verse is dynamite! A number of evangelicals are up in arms over its first line, which they claim encourages sinful behavior in teenagers:
The young folks roll on the little cabin floor.
As soon as the preachers come up with an alternative, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I hope you’ll excuse me if I just whistle “I’ll Take Manhattan.”