Music of Illinois: ‘Illinois Loyalty’

Illinois Loyalty (Photos courtesy of Joe Rank)

The origins of University of Illinois’ school song lie with Thacher Howland Guild, a graduate of Providence, R.I.-based Brown University and University of Chicago who assumed the post of rhetoric instructor at UI in 1904. Guild’s contributions to UI extended beyond words. He sat in as first chair cornet with the University Military Band at a time when its members roused bleacher crowds by setting new lyrics to the likes of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here,” or “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” While at Brown, Guild toyed with a melody and lyrics for a song entitled “We’re Loyal to You, Men of Brown.” As luck – for UI, that is – would have it, the composition was neither published nor performed. Guild, meantime, continued to tinker with the tune and presented “Illinois Loyalty” to UI Band Director A. A. Harding, who premiered it at a concert in March 1906.

UI football’s first foray to the Eastern U.S. occurred in October 1925, when the team traveled to Philadelphia to play the University of Pennsylvania (UP). The 165-member-strong Illinois Band, along with several hundred rooters, followed via a train delayed by a freight train wreck. Band and fans arrived at UP’s Franklin Field only seconds before kickoff, delayed for 10 minutes to accommodate their hold-up. Illinois overwhelmingly triumphed, winning 24-2.

However, Eastern newspapers reserved some of their most resounding praise for Illinois Band. “They brought along the largest and best band ever seen in this area,” wrote the New York Times. The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin observed, ”The Illinois Band is justly famous as the snappiest in the Big Ten Conference.”  “…There has never been anything like it on an Eastern gridiron.,” summed the Associated Press.

Immediately following the game, Illinois Band was ferried by river to Camden, N.J.. where it recorded “”Illinois Loyalty, “Hail to the Orange,” and “Oskee Wow Wow” for the Victor Talking Machine Co. – the first time the Band committed music to vinyl.