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Augustana’s search for a musical identity

Many contenders come and go before
a 'mighty' tune is born

In January 1894, The Alumnus (a publication of the Alumni Association of Augustana College), issued what was to become a familiar call: “Why should not Augustana have a song of its own?” Similar pleas were printed in the Observer for at least the next 30 years. Each time a new call went out for a college song, the songs currently in use were mentioned and debated, and apparently fell short for some reason or other.

E.W. Olson, Class of 1891, was awarded a prize of $5 in 1894 for his song written to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne.” Olson’s song was printed in the 1900 Class Annual (Augustana’s first yearbook) as the School Song.

Another E.W. Olson song was printed in the next yearbook, the Class Annual of 1905, written to the melody of a Swedish song, which began: “Thy name, Augustana, in cheers we extol/And bright burn the fires of our devotion.”

And if that wasn’t rousing enough, an additional song appeared in the 1905 Class Annual to the melody of “Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching,” which started: “Augustana on the hill!/Sing her praises with a will!” with a chorus of: “Hip, hip, hip, hurrah for yellow!/Hip, hip, hip, hurrah for blue!/They're the colors of the sky,/Of the sun and stars on high.”

The Observer stirs things up

The 1910 Jubilee album published in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Augustana College and Theological Seminary reprinted the same three college songs as the 1905 Class Annual, and all seemed well on the college song front until Oct. 21, 1921, when the Observer published five college songs. These five college songs, however, did not include the three noted above. At least eight college songs had been printed by the time the Observer called for even more spirit in 1922, stating:

Augustana has good songs and yells, but there are many who deplore the fact that there are not more of them. Naturally, we desire more cheers and melodies… Augie never rejects a good yell or snappy song…” (Nov. 23, 1922)

In January 1923, the Observer again called for new songs, noting that one existing song was “set to too hard a score for the musically impoverished,” another was “not original,” and a third “savors of Civil War days and is therefore offensive to the South.”

A football player on the cover of "Augustana Victory Song," with melody and words by Albert L. Olson ’24. It was dedicated to the men and women who have fought for Augustana in both forensics and athletics.

Albert Olsson’s “Victory Song” was published in the fall of 1923, with the Observer exclaiming “Augustana will at last have a song which it can really call its own” (Nov. 2, 1923).

Not all were in agreement a year later, though, when the Observer reported that the Student’s Union was set choose the official college song, deliberating between Olsson’s “Victory Song” and the “Blue and Gold.” One week later, the paper reported that the Student’s Union failed to designate an official song, leaving the decision “until both songs had been tried on the football field with band accompaniment.” The same issue carried an editorial imploring the student body to learn all the Augustana songs, stating that they “are as essential a part of college life and education as are the daily lessons” (Sept. 25, 1924).

A never-ending contest

An appeal was again made in January 1927 to compose a song “which will have an especial appeal to the student generations and be expressive of the spirit of Augustana.” A contest was announced to solicit original songs with a Viking theme, and award $25 to the winner. The Observer stated that this was “the first contest of its kind ever held at Augustana,” apparently unaware of the 1894 contest for a school song. Front-page articles about the song contest ran for three months until Regina Holmen ’22 was named as the winner in April 1927, for her composition “The Song of the Vikings.”

“The Song of the Vikings” must not have caught on, because only six months later the Observer editorial stated that “Augustana students have a good assortment of school and pep songs and yet there seems to be some question as to which one shall be considered the official school song… The suggestion has been made that either the Viking or the Victory song be selected as an official school song.” (October 13, 1927)

January 1929 saw another contest for the school song, with another $25 prize to be awarded, noting that a similar contest was held “several” years ago — though that contest was a mere two years prior. In late March 1929, $15 was awarded to Alfield Johnson for the best pep song, without a title or lyrics in the article. Curiously enough, the Observer reported in May 1934 that the “Victory Song has been the official college song at Augustana since 1923 at which time it was published in sheet music form.” However, 1936 saw another plea for a school song, this time an “Alma Mater” song. Paul Finnman’s “Alma Mater” was first printed in the Observer in May 1937, with a call to make it the official alma mater song of Augustana, which it remains to this day.

Yet the most enduring and popular Augustana song was the result of a contest other than the Observer’s repeated badgering. In the 1940s, members of the Beta Omega Sigma fraternity altered the Rock Island High School song, “By the Mighty Mississippi” for their entry in the Augustana Homecoming Sing competition. “By the Mighty Mississippi” was written by Jack Rasley, a Rock Island high school student, who graduated from Rocky in 1930. Augustana’s version has endured as the official school song partly because of the choir’s tradition of singing the song after each performance. The locally beloved song was altered once again in 1995 when the City of Rock Island passed a resolution to make it the official song of the city.

(Hear "By the Mighty Mississippi")