As a young man growing up in Maywood, Illinois, a blue-collar suburb of Chicago, future songwriting icon John Prine and his family would spend summers in Paradise, Kentucky, the Muhlenberg County birthplace of his father, Bill Prine. The younger Prine would later immortalize the coal-mining town in his song “Paradise” and has retained a strong connection to the Bluegrass State throughout his 72 years. Now, in advance of this weekend’s Kentucky Derby, which traditionally kicks off with a singalong of the song, Prine debuts his poignant and nostalgic acoustic rendition of “My Old Kentucky Home, Goodnight.”
Available digitally, the song also receives a limited release on 7-inch Kentucky blue vinyl, accompanied by “Paradise,” featuring special guest Tyler Childers in a live 2018 performance from Beaver Dam, Kentucky. Proceeds from the release will benefit the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, a non-profit law firm representing coal miners and their families in the Appalachian region.
“My Old Kentucky Home, Goodnight” was written by Stephen C. Foster, the most successful songwriter of the mid-19th century, and Prine first recorded it in 2004, when it was included on the Grammy-winning compilation Beautiful Dreamer, featuring 18 songs all written by Foster. Inspired by Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the landmark 1852 antislavery novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Foster, whose song was published just a few months after that book reached the public, had been traveling on the Mississippi River with his family and longtime friend, abolitionist Charles Shiras, whom Foster biographer JoAnne O’Connell credits with influencing many of Foster’s published works.
The song’s original chorus ended with the line, “Poor Uncle Tom, goodnight,” but with the change came a version that would have lasting and universal appeal. Although a century separates them, this song’s picturesque lyrics and wistful theme of separation from loved ones aren’t far-removed from the hallmarks of emotion and detail that have distinguished Prine’s own work since the early 1970s.
Pre-order of the 7-inch vinyl is now available.