“On the banks of the Red Cedar, is a school that’s known to all.
Its specialty is winning, and those Spartans play good ball.
Spartan teams are never beaten, all thru the game they fight.
Fight for the only colors, Green and White!”
March is coming to a close, and April begins National Poetry Month. To kick off the month in a Spartan fashion, I think it would be interesting to highlight the rich history of Michigan State’s poetic songs, such as our fight song and Alma mater. These songs, a staple of any sporting event on campus, have an interesting history. Over the years they have gone through numerous changes, and our Alma Mater was once another song! Here is some interesting history about MSU’s songs, cheers, and chants!
F. Irving Lankey was a student at MAC back in the day. An avid piano player and yellmaster (the word cheerleader had not been originated yet), Lankey noticed that there was no fight song for MAC at the time. He decided to solve this problem himself and invented one. In 1916 Lankey and his roommate Arthur L. Sayles sat together on a piano bench and began to write. Lankey came up with the tune while Sayles was responsible for most of the words. The song was completed and now had to become popular amongst students. The promotion of the song did not take place until two years after it was written.
Sayles describes his roommate’s third love (after being a yellmaster and playing piano) as the girls. Lankey was known to be a ladies’ man at the time, sharing his fraternity pin with many young women. One of these women he came across was the young Claudice Mary Kober. Somehow, during their time together, Kober acquired the original copy of the Fight Song. In between her acquiring the piece and 1919, she would take the song and have it copyrighted and published at a cost of $90. In 1919, Kober, Sayles, and Lankey had the idea to print off and sell song sheets at the Homecoming pep assembly at 50 cents each. Kober would receive $90 (due to the copyright laws) and the rest would go to the Varsity Club treasury whose funds were still running low as a result of the war. All of the song sheet copies were sold in less than a half hour! Kober was in charge of the money and she accidentally forgot the original agreement and kept all $385 for herself. Lankey then met J.S. Taylor, the new director of the Military Band. Taylor loved the song and believed that it should be orchestrated for the band. The next fall, the MAC fight song was played at all football games, and well, the rest is history! Lankey did not live to hear his song played at the games as he died in an airplane accident in May 1919.
The original lyrics were different from what we know today. Over the year changes have occurred; most notably in 1925 and 1956 when the school changed its name.
On the banks of the Red Cedar, there’s a college known to all
Their specialty is farming, but those farmers play football
Aggie teams are never beaten, all thru the game they fight
Fighting for the only colors, Green and White
Smash right thru that line of blue, watch that score keep growing
Aggie teams are sure to win, they’re fighting with a vim
Rah! Rah! Rah!
Michigan is weakening, we’re going to win this game
Fight, Fight, Rah Team Fight!
Victory for MAC!
Up, up with colors, unfurl them on high
Fight, rah, team fight!
Our beloved MSU has always had an Alma Mater, however, it is not the one that our students today are familiar with. Our first Alma Mater was a song titled “Close Beside the Winding Cedar” which was adopted in 1907 as the college’s first school song. The lyrics were as follows:
Close beside the winding Cedar, sloping banks of green,
Spread the campus, alma mater, fairest ever seen
Swell the chorus! Let it echo, over hill and vale
Hail to thee, our loving mother, MAC all hail
First of all they race, fond mother, thus we greet thee now,
While with loving hands the laurel, twine we over thy brow
Backward through the hazy distance, troop the days of yore
Scenes and faces float before us, cherished more and more
College Hall and Wells and Williams, Abbot and the rest,
Halcyon days were those spent with you, days of all the best
Fold us fondly to your bosom, Alma Mater, dear
Sing we now their endless praises, Sounding cheer on cheer
For over ten years, students were pushing for an original song to MSC. “Close Beside the Winding Cedar” held the same melody of a song that was the college song for over a dozen colleges all over the nation. “Shadows” was introduced in 1927 and students fell in love with it. Written by Barney Traynot, the line coach at MSC from 1925-1927, the students pushed for this song to become the official alma mater. The faculty, State Board of Agriculture and Student Council all gave approval after a student vote in March of 1949 indicated that “Shadows” was the three-to-one favorite over four songs, including the old school song. Out of 11,383 votes, Shadows ranked in 6,087 votes, Close Beside the Winding Cedar was in second with 2,070, and the other tunes took the others. Shadows continues to be our alma mater today, however the lyrics have been changed over the years. Here are the original lyrics to MSC Shadows:
MSC we love they shadows, when twilight silence falls
Flushing deep and softly paling, our ivy covered halls
Beneath the pines we’ll gather, to give our hearts to thee
Sing our love for Alma mater and they praises MSC
When from the scenes we wander, and twilight shadows fades
Our memory still will linger, where light and shadows played
In the evening oft we’ll gather, and turn our thoughts to thee
Sing our love for Alma mater and they praises MSC
Michigan State has also had a history of other chants and cheers. Here are a few earlier ones circa 1920 for you to enjoy!
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