An interview with Les McCann from the Kentucky Music Issue.
All through high school the band teacher and I were very good friends. He received tickets to all the bands and brought me to concerts. I was in perfect heaven. I never said no to anything. And my mother was a fake opera singer. She’d listen to the opera every Sunday while she cleaned house and wooooo, oh my God, it was great! Everybody was into something. Right across the street from our house was the Elk’s Club, so every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night you’d hear a beautiful organ trio playing.
Here are the facts: In the first Kentucky Derby run in 1875, thirteen of the fifteen jockeys were black, including the winner, Oliver Lewis on Aristides. Black jockeys won fifteen of the first twenty-eight derbies. Isaac Murphy, whose winnings built a mansion in Lexington near the old Kentucky Association racetrack, won the derby three times and had an overall win record of 34.5 percent. Jimmy Winkfield, who was born in 1882, won the derby twice. He went to Russia to race and then fled the Bolshevik Revolution, leading a band of Thoroughbreds to Poland. Winkfield lived the high life as a trainer on the tracks outside Paris, France, but when he returned to Kentucky in 1961 at the invitation of racing journalists, he was turned away at the door of the Brown Hotel because he was black.