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'Fessor and the Aces



THE BILL 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.

There is 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.

Like most 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.

I remember 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.

I enrolled 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.

Then, one 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 song.

Bob arranged 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 spirit.

The next 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.

Pearl Harbor 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.

Later, the 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 apart.

After the 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.

In 1974, 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.

In 1979 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.

Although 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:

Charles 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.

When UNT 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.

The combination 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.

The Bill 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.

Francis Stroup ('29)
DeKalb, Ill.



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