Emily Bingham explores the long, strange journey of what has come to be seen by some as an American anthem, an integral part of our folklore, culture, customs, foundation, a living symbol of a "happy past." But "My Old Kentucky Home" was never just a song. It was always a song about slavery with the real Kentucky home inhabited by the enslaved and shot through with violence, despair, and degradation. Bingham explores the song's history and permutations from its decades of performances across the continent, entering into the bloodstream of American life, through its 21st-century reassessment. It is a song that has been repeated and taught for almost 200 years, a resonant changing emblem of America's original sin whose blood-drenched shadow hovers and haunts us still.
How the song so captured these people and a wider world, is the haunting question that the native Kentuckian Emily Bingham answers so thoroughly and forcefully in My Old Kentucky Home, her history of an American song ... This book is more than just a kind of archaeological deep dig; it attempts a reckoning, a kind that many Southerners, especially, will recognize and understand, because they have long been searching for something like it themselves ... The song is a thing from antiquity, yes, but in 2022, in an America at war with itself, this book seems to arrive just in time. Bingham, in her words, scrubs off some of that burned cork to see what is underneath ... Her book offers its readers the same choice, between understanding and sweet nostalgia, between the splinters and thorns of history and about the worst thing people can do to one another, and a smooth, thin, polished veneer.
Emily Bingham’s new book offers a powerful story of how, exactly, we fool ourselves into thinking the past is past ... Bingham has given us an account that is both riveting and thorough, taking us across a century of spinout marketing campaigns, protests and versions that emerged from Foster’s lyrics ... Before Bingham’s done, she will argue with powerful momentum that the song 'is a spy hole into one of America’s deftest and most destructive creations: the "singing enslaved person" whose song assured hearers that the plantation was happy and a place where Black people belong' ... People who are devoted to provocative hot takes will probably accuse Bingham of canceling a standard perceived to be an anthem for the American Dream. But Bingham’s research is finely detailed, extensive, complex. Further, her identity — and its many complications — is vital to her authority as a needed writer of this book ... What makes us so afraid to learn? What makes a person, a family, a country afraid of veracity? Emily Bingham’s new book is a work toward truth and reconciliation ... Ignorance, she intimates, is not an option for the patriotic.
[A] thoughtful, self-aware, intensely moral history ... Covers a spectacular amount of ground ... Engrossing twists and turns come with every chapter of the book ... The tremendous range of My Old Kentucky Home might threaten to spin out of control were it not for the clear moral center drawing it all together. Here the stories of attempts by Black people to find some use for Foster’s song across time lend the book needed intricacy.