Music of Illinois: ‘By Thy Rivers Gently Flowing’

By Thy Rivers Gently Flowing (Photo courtesy of Joe Rank)

In 1897, the University of Illinois Glee and Mandolin Club first performed “By Thy Rivers Gently Flowing, Illinois,” a paean to the state’s participation in the Civil War so stirring lawmakers deemed it the official Illinois State Song in 1925. The lyrics, written by Charles H. Chamberlain, were set to “Baby Mine,” a popular 1860s melody composed by Archibald Johnston. Time has not diminished the song’s power. Among UI bands and choirs, it remains one of the oldest and most frequently performed works in their repertoires.

The Marching Illini’s classic pre-game entrance song, humbly named Entrance #3, was adapted from Colonel A. F. Hand’s Governor’s March, written in honor of Henry Horner, who served as Illinois governor from 1933 to 1940. Strains of both compositions incorporate the melody of “By Thy Rivers Gently Flowing.”