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Traditional Husky Fight Song captures
school spirit across generations
(April 5, 1999)
The 1940 Nutmeg, in a write-up on the University Band, notes that "the band with its snappy arrangements, especially of 'The Husky Song,' is an enjoyable part of all our athletic contests."
Everyone knows "The Husky Song," right? Well, not this one. Not unless you were at the University between 1940 and the mid-1950s. Because the song referred to in the 1940 Nutmeg is not the song you think it is.
What is now known as "The Husky Fight Song," actually titled "UConn Husky," was written sometime in the late 1940s by Herbert France, who started the music department. But that's getting ahead of the story.
It was in 1939 that Connecticut State College became the University of Connecticut. Although the Husky had been the mascot since 1934 - after Connecticut Agricultural College became CSC and the nickname Aggies no longer applied to our athletic teams - the use of "UConn" didn't become widespread until the 1940s.
The first published use of "UConn" was in the October 24, 1939, issue of the Connecticut Campus, in a headline: "U-Conn. Cross Country Team Over- whelms Yale University."
On the opposite page is the first pairing of the name with that of the mascot, where a sportswriter mentioned the "U-Conn Huskies" in a story on a varsity football game against the University of Buffalo. At that time, the usage typically was with a hyphen, either U-Conn or U-conn, a practice that continued into the 1960s.
In the late summer of 1939, band leader Fred Waring, known for the Waring Blender and the Pennsylvanians, one of the era's Big Bands, launched a new feature on his National Broadcasting Company (NBC) radio program.
The Connecticut Campus reported on October 24, 1939, that Waring received a letter from a student at Colby College in Maine, stating "that his school needed a new pep song and there seemed to be a scarcity of composers in the field. Waring presented the Colby song on the air and offered to write more tunes and give them a sendoff on his program. He was immediately stormed with requests and now new songs are an important part of his show."
One of the people who took Waring up on his offer to write more collegiate songs, was Tom Leonard, a junior from Waterbury and managing editor of the Connecticut Campus. He wrote to the band leader asking him to compose a new song for "the U of C."
Waring agreed. And on November 24, 1939, he premiered "The Connecticut Husky," subtitled "The Mascot Song," the fifth in his series of college songs. A contingent of about 30 students, faculty and alumni attended the live, 7 p.m. broadcast of "Pleasure Time" in New York.
"Thrilled to the words, 'Fight, fight, fight, Connecticut, fight', hundreds of loyal Connecticut rooters glowed with satisfaction last Friday night as Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians introduced their Connecticut fight song, 'The Connecticut Husky,'" reported the Campus on November 28, 1939.
"Equally eager to be 'in' on the first playing of what will undoubtedly take its place as one of our leading college songs, hundreds on campus bent an ear to their radios at the appointed time," the Campus continued.
For more than a decade, the song was "one of our leading songs." The words, possibly written by Pat Ballard, who is credited with Waring for the composition, were published each year in the student handbook from 1940 until 1953. Then it slipped into oblivion.
What took its place is the familiar "UConn Husky," which first showed up in the handbook, along with the Waring tune, in 1949-50. The handbook notes that "UConn has many songs, but there are really only three which you'll find sung at all rallies and football games. These are the fight song, Connecticut Husky, better known perhaps by its first line, 'On the Rolling Hills Beneath the Blue,' the driving 'UConn Husky' and the nostalgic Alma Mater."
"UConn Husky" was written by Herbert A. France of Coventry, who joined the staff of Connecticut Agricultural College in 1931 to start up the music department and lead campus choral groups. He was department head until 1949, and retired in 1960. He died in 1971, and in 1981, at the University's centennial, his family gave UConn the rights to the song.
The current arrangement of France's "UConn Husky," as played by the UConn Marching Band, is an adaptation by David Maker, professor of music, of an earlier arrangement by Jerry Bilik.
The words are:
U Conn Husky, symbol of might to the foe.
NOTE: In recent times, the word "Hi!" has been replaced with "Fight!"
Mark J. Roy
Sources: Connecticut Campus, various issues; student handbooks; University of Connecticut Songbook, 1954 edition, available in the University Archives, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.