Click to enlargeMy Old Kentucky Home (saxophone quintet)

Same arrangement for brass quintet.

The more one learns about Stephen Foster, the more interesting and sad the story becomes. For nearly twenty years around the time of the Civil War, he wrote most of the popular songs published in the United States, yet died flat broke at the age of 37. He sold most of his songs to publishers for lump sums. Some he did not sell at all. Copyright and royalty laws being what they were at the time, up to five or more publishers would have competing editions of his songs in print, and other than whatever he could get up front, he rarely saw any money.

This particular song was written in 1850 and first published in 1853. Foster was from the black-face minstrel show tradition, and this was the first of his popular songs not to use the minstrel show "slave dialect." It is said to have been influenced by letters to his parents from his older sister staying in Bardstown, Kentucky, and a possible visit to Bardstown by Foster when he was traveling to Louisville. Foster's sympathy for slaves grew over time, and he never used the "slave dialect" in a lyric again.

The song gained considerable popularity during the Civil War, and was heard in the camps of armies on both sides. By 1900, it was a nearly universally-known sentimental favorite around the nation, and was especially favored in Kentucky.

My Old Kentucky Home was first used as the lead-in music for the famous Kentucky Derby horse race in 1924, and in 1928, the Commonwealth of Kentucky made it their official state song. In 1986, the word "darkies" was replaced with "people" by the Kentucky legislature in deference to modern sensibilities. Today both the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky have rich traditions involving this song.

Foster was a master of the simple, memorable melody.

In this arrangement, a full introduction is followed by the second alto carrying the melody for the first stanza, backed by a trio, the first alto and soprano playing the same, low part. "Weep no more my lady..." is played by a quartet of soprano, both altos, and tenor, and second alto with trio resumes for the reprise lines.

After a key change, the soprano leads the second stanza with full five-part harmony. Once again the soprano, altos, and tenor form a quartet for the "Weep no more..." section, and the five part harmony comes back in for a subdued reprise section and coda line.

This arrangement is enharmonic with the brass quintet arrangement mentioned above, which creates interesting possibilities for a performance group.


The sun shines bright in My Old Kentucky Home,
'Tis summer, the people 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 comes a knocking at the door,
Then My Old Kentucky Home, good night!
Weep no more my lady
Oh weep no more today;
We will sing one song
For My Old Kentucky Home
For My Old Kentucky Home, far away.

The head must bow and the back will have to bend,
Wherever the people may go;
A few more days, and the trouble all will end,
In the field where the sugar-canes grow;
A few more days for 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, goodnight.
Weep no more my lady
Oh weep no more today;
We will sing one song
For My Old Kentucky Home
For My Old Kentucky Home, far away.

For My Old Kentucky Home, far away.


MP3 sound sample: entire piece (synthesizer/midi).

MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME, by Stephen Foster, arranged by Tom Kirkland for sax quintet consisting of Bb soprano, two Eb altos, Bb tenor, and Eb baritone, comes in a pdf file of 213K, with six-page score, five two-page parts, and a license page, seventeen pages in all. Performance time should be about 3:20.

The majority of our sheet music pieces use electronically-produced demos on the item pages. We would much prefer to use actual recordings, so if you email us a digital recording or link to an online video and we end up using it as a demo on our site (fully credited), we will send you a coupon code good for US$25 toward your next purchase from our site.

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Last update: 24 APR 2023