By: Alicia Kelso
UofLNews and UofL Today Editory
UofL has many ties to the Kentucky Derby, but perhaps none as deep as our
Since 1936, the group has served as “The Official Band of the Kentucky Derby.”
What this means is that on the first Saturday of every May just prior to the Most
Exciting Two Minutes In Sports, our students’ rendition of “My Old Kentucky
Home” is showcased to about 150,000 people at Churchill Downs and an
additional 15 million television viewers across the world. By the time the band is
finished playing, there aren’t many dry eyes left.
A Courier Journal columnist described this experience best this week: “I’ve
interviewed Kentuckians who haven’t set foot in the state for 30 years who still
stand in front of their televisions and weep when they hear the woodwinds and
brass instruments strike the first few notes of ‘My Old Kentucky Home.’ The
lyrics tell us that there’ll be hard times, by and by. But at the crescendo, it’s as
if 150,000 voices nudge us to weep no more.”
Those are our students playing those woodwinds and brass instruments
and evoking such emotion, courtesy of Stephen Collins Foster’s lyrics. Such an
experience is not lost on the group.
“Hands down my favorite part is hearing everyone sing at Churchill Downs.
When the song begins, voices are a bit subdued, but then a strong rise of voices
is heard on ‘Weep no more my lady.’ It is a powerful and unifying event that
makes you feel connected to people all over the world and so proud to live in
Kentucky,” said Amy Acklin, associate director of Bands and director of the
Cardinal Marching Band.
This Saturday will mark her 12 th year with the band, eight of which have been as
director and four spent as a student. This year will also mark year 24 for Dr.
Fred Speck, UofL’s director of Bands, and year three for Dr. Jason Cumberledge,
assistant director of Bands.
Cardinal Marching Band members,
including Natalie Humble, former graduate of WCHS and active member of the WCHS Marching Cards, in the infield between performances during
last year’s Derby.
It’s not just the directors who appreciate the experience, either. Natalie
Humble, a sophomore from Monticello, Kentucky, performed at the Derby as a
trumpet player last year and will move into the drum major role this year. She
calls the opportunity to play the Derby “surreal.”
“Traveling to (football) games is a unique experience in the fall, but there is
nothing more special than having an opportunity like this right where we are,”
she said. “It is entirely unique to the Cardinal Marching Band. Having that
legacy of performing ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ is something you can only gain
through the CMB – that’s the most special part.”
Acklin adds that having the unique opportunity to be part of this tradition is a
“It’s pretty incredible to know that literally thousands of UofL alumni, whom
you’ve never met, are cheering you on and grateful for your service in
continuing this important tradition,” Acklin said. “Having this singular honor for
over eight decades is a testament to the commitment from the community and
the dedication of the band and its alums.”
As for his perspective, which spans more than two decades, Speck simply
passed along his favorite quote from famed sports commentator Jim McKay in
“It offers a moment that exists nowhere else in sports … when the horses come
on the track and you see the silks on the jockeys and the tan of the track and
the blue of the sky. Then they start playing that song, ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’
and you can’t explain why, but it doesn’t matter if you’re from Kentucky or
England or Timbuktu, it brings a tear to your eye…”
Natalie Humble (far right) with her University of Louisville bandmates
The University of Louisville Marching Cards at last year's (2018) Kentucky Derby
This story originally appeared on UofLNews.com (Reprinted with Permission)