COLLINS LETTER ABOUT 'FESSOR AND THE ACES of Collegeland on
the web site for the spring issue brought back long-held memories
of my association with North Texas.
a saying that chickens are the best possible food because you can
eat them before they're born and after they're dead. My intimate
association with North Texas was similar because it began before
I enrolled and continued after my graduation. Basically, this was
the era between the two World Wars.
Denton households before the advent of dormitories, we kept roomers,
and one boy who stayed with us kept me posted on campus happenings.
He reported that at one weekly chapel the students voted to make
the Eagle the mascot for athletic teams. Another week, they adopted
"Singing Glory to the Green" by Charles Langford and Julia
Smith as the alma mater.
when the Eagles joined their first athletic conference and when
the roof was raised on a structure originally built as a dormitory
for the Student Army Training Corps during World War I. It housed
the demonstration school until the Education Building was finished,
and with the raised ceiling, it became the first gymnasium on campus
where they played basketball games indoors and at night.
at North Texas State College as a freshman in 1925, which was the
same year that Floyd Graham became the only male member of the music
faculty. We didn't know it at the time, but it marked the beginning
of an era. His primary assignment was to direct the marching band,
but gradually his duties came to include directing the pit orchestra,
which played for the silent movies shown in the auditorium every
Saturday night, and directing a radio group that broadcast over
WFAA and WBAP. With the advent of talking pictures, the pit orchestra
was moved on stage, where it provided support for talented performers,
many of whom progressed to professional entertainment careers.
As his career
progressed, "Floyd" became "'Fessor," the Stage
Band became "The Aces of Collegeland" and the combination
became a legend in its own time. But despite accolades, 'Fessor's
involvement with the adoption of a North Texas marching song is
not widely recognized.
At the time,
it was customary for small colleges to adopt a well-known tune and
provide the words to claim identification. North Texas, along with
Harvard and Rice and others, had adopted "Our Director March"
and provided identifying words, which appeared in the student handbook.
But 'Fessor envisioned North Texas with its very own song and had
plans for achieving it.
[Editor's note: Read the Eagle Tale
for Stroup's description of how the fight song was born. The story
here resumes after he mailed in his song for the contest.]
In a couple
of weeks I was back at the Saturday night show and 'Fessor was still
plugging the contest. Somebody sang one of the entries about a boy
and girl in the parlor with lights turned down. I somehow had a
feeling that wasn't the kind of song they were looking for. The
next week they sang another entry that didn't sound too impressive.
night, they played my song with a band arrangement by Gene Hall.
Nobody sang, but after they finished, 'Fessor said: "Can't
you just imagine the band marching down the field playing that."
I thought, "Oh, boy. I think he likes it."
I got a
job teaching swimming at the college that summer but didn't hear
any more about the contest. But when the fall semester started,
I got a letter from Bob Marquis telling me that my song had been
adopted. The musicians immediately went into an intensive teaching
program. (In the music trade it's called plugging a song.) 'Fessor
and the Aces played it every Saturday night at the show and Bob
and the marching band played it after every score and during every
time-out at the games. Within a few weeks, thousands of people could
play, sing, hum, whistle or at least recognize the new North Texas
for me to be introduced at the Homecoming game and the response
of ten thousand people to the introduction was a moment to remember.
The new song and a winning team had brought a renaissance of college
summer, I wrote and produced a pageant at the pool. And when 'Fessor
learned of it, he brought the entire stage band up to provide the
music for the occasion.
ended my contractual relationship with the college. But while stationed
at San Antonio, I learned of a plan to raise money for a clubhouse
on campus. I persuaded an Air Force buddy who had been a high school
band director to make a vocal and piano arrangement of the song
and sent it to J.D. Hall at the college print shop with the suggestion
that they print copies with 'Fessor's picture on the front and sell
them to raise money for the clubhouse. I was told that the first
copy was auctioned off and brought $50.
Aces cut a 78 rpm record with "Glory to the Green" on
one side and "Fight, North Texas" on the other. I always
thought that their arrangement of the song was the best I ever heard.
The trumpet obbligato in the seventh and eighth measures set it
war, jobs in Wyoming, Arkansas and Illinois limited my association
with North Texas. But I kept writing songs wherever I went. At Northern
Illinois University, in response to an appeal from the editor of
the school paper for more inspirational words for the "Loyalty
Song," I wrote the "Huskie Fight Song," which was
adopted in 1961.
I received a letter from J.B. Woodrum inviting me to become a charter
member of the Floyd Graham Society. I responded immediately and
always attended their meetings when I was on campus.
I returned to the campus for the golden anniversary of my graduating
class and, along with Bob Marquis and members of his retired Dixieland
Band members, I received a recognition plaque from Dr. Robert Winslow,
director of the North Texas bands. He said he liked for current
band members to be aware of the history and lore of the band and
invited me to send any material he might use. I was happy to comply.
When I was
inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987, Dr. Winslow allowed me to
direct the band at halftime and let me keep the baton as a souvenir.
On the 50th
anniversary of the adoption of "Fight, North Texas," I
assigned the copyright to the university. But other changes were
in the making. "Let's give a cheer for North Texas State"
had served for nearly five decades and survived three name changes.
But the change to "University of North Texas" necessitated
many adjustments, including words to the song. Dr. Winslow invited
my suggestions. Consideration for the thousands of exes who knew
the original words compelled me to keep the changes to a minimum.
I am removed geographically from North Texas, I never want to break
the ties. I am a member of the President's Council; I get annual
reports regarding the recipients of the Mina G. Stroup scholarship.
I enjoy reading The North Texan even though the class notes
begin 20 years after my graduation and a recognizable name seldom
appears, even in the "Friends We'll Miss" section. At
91, I don't travel as much as I once did, but I still hold the hope
of returning to campus and seeing the things I read about.
As I reflect
on my musical connection with UNT, I am impressed with some aspects
that are extremely unusual if not unique:
Langford played football in the early '20s; I played basketball
in the late '20s. I doubt if the words to both the alma mater and
the pep song at any other college in the country were written by
men who had represented the college in intercollegiate sports.
played NIU in 1990, the pep songs for both schools were written
by the same person. I doubt if that has happened before for two
NCAA Division I teams.
of athletic participation and song writing has allowed me to be
inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame at two universities. If
others have been so honored, I'm sure it was not for the same.
Collins letter, which I cited in the beginning, emphasized the contribution
'Fessor and the Aces of Collegeland made to the musicians and to
the music department of the university. But I would like to suggest
that, in a larger sense, their greatest contribution was to those
thousands of people who came to North Texas from a variety of backgrounds
and with diverse objectives and who, through common experiences
such as those provided by the Aces, were transformed into the community
of North Texans.