My Old Kentucky Homesite

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.”


6 Responses to “It’s Never Cloudy in Kentucky?”

  1. srsny said

    Although the New York State Legislature is still debating the gay marriage bill, there are concerns that, if the law passes, issues will be raised about:

    The great big city’s a wond’rous toy
    Just made for a girl and boy

    as well as:

    The great big city can never spoil
    The dreams of a boy and goil

    One might think Larry Hart may have had some alternative lyrics hidden in his piano bench.

    Any suggestions?

  2. Srsny:

    The wond’rous city’s a toy that’s great;
    Who cares if you’re gay or straight?

    The great big city is painted red
    Regardless of whom you wed.

    And, just to show that Kentucky doesn’t have a monopoly on Nature:
    The great big city is not devoid
    Of music for ev’ry boid.

  3. Evie said

    Since changing the song is so tedious, maybe y’all ought to consider changing the weather.

  4. Evie:

    … maybe y’all ought to consider changing the weather.
    Well, as the saying goes: Everybody sings about the weather but nobody dances to it.

    However, maybe w’all ought to consider changing our second-person plural pronoun. As an old New Yawker, I’d like to suggest “yooz.”

  5. srsny said

    Everybody sings about the weather but nobody dances to it.

    What about Gene Kelly – he danced to the weather. Not only in the splashy part but also joined by Debbie and Donald in that opening number with the yellow raincoats.

    And what about Ann Miller in Kiss Me Kate? And I know I’ve seen a number of dance versions of Irving Berlin’s “Heat Wave,” although I can’t recall them at the moment. And I’m sure I’m forgetting something else.

  6. Srsny:
    Excellent point. I’m guessing that the king of the weather-dancers was Fred Astaire. He danced in rain, snow, fog, and dark of night. A regular mailman, he was.

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