Meredith Willson & The Iowa Hawkeyes.

In October 2022 – The Hawkeye Marching Band dedicated a half-time show to Meredith Willson. Click here to view the show on FaceBook!

Over the years, Meredith Willson would make frequent trips from his home in California to Iowa City to guest conduct The University of Iowa Hawkeye Marching Band. Above – here he is with the sousaphone section at the 1958 Homecoming game vs. #8 Northwestern on October 25, 1958. The #2 Hawkeyes won the game 6-0, securing their first-ever #1 UPI ranking after the game. The Hawkeyes went on to a very successful season, winning the 1959 Rose Bowl 38-12 over California.

This 1958 show featured many creative pictures in conjunction with the favorite musical selections from The Music Man: a fancy drill routine set to the popular tune “76 Trombones,” a horse-drawn wagon set to “Wells Fargo Wagon,” and even a rotating barber pole set to an acappella vocal rendition of “Lida Rose.” Meredith guest conducted the band in The Iowa Fight Song as well as his popular “May the Lord Bless You and Keep You” as a sort of benediction to the 1958 football season.

Meredith Willson also guest-conducted the Hawkeye Marching Band at several Rose Bowl appearances (1957, 1959, and 1982) – with his final appearance at the 1982 Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Click here to read more about Meredith Willson & his association with the Hawkeye Marching Band.

December 31, 1950 – The Big Show – The Iowa Fight Song Debut…

Looking for a football revival, Meredith Willson, Iowa’s favorite Music Man, wrote The Iowa Fight Song (1950) upon request. He premiered the song on his NBC radio show, The Big Show, on December 31, 1950 with a 47-piece orchestra and sixteen singers. The song was introduced on campus on February 12, 1951 at the Iowa-Indiana basketball game. Click here to read more.

Listen to the actual broadcast here…

Iowa Football had just gone through a horrible season, finishing 3-5-1. The low light of the schedule was a huge 83-21 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus. Listen to Meredith’s hopeful response before he leads his orchestra into the very first performance of The Iowa Fight Song – New Years Eve – 1950. The other voices you hear are Tallulah Bankhead, Margaret O’Brien, and Ken Murray.

Read more here about the most popular University of Iowa school songs.

Click here to watch the Iowa-PBS video – The History of the Iowa Fight Song.

(L-0038) Hancher Auditorium – November 9-10-11, 1972. The Hancher Auditorium Grand Opening featuring Meredith Willson’s The Music Man.

When I was part of the Hawkeye Marching Band (1969-1972), Meredith made another trip to Iowa City to be a part of the gala opening of Hancher Auditorium. Willson guest-conducted the HMB band at newly-renamed Kinnick Stadium (November 11, 1972 vs. Michigan) and then appeared with us on stage at the big finale of The Music Man performances at Hancher. If you’re familiar with Willson’s Broadway classic, the final scene is a show-stopper as River City’s motley boys’ band transforms into a glorious marching unit that brings down the house with 76 Trombones. The HMB had the honor of being “the band” on the stage of Hancher.

A musical highlight I will never forget.

Now, in continuing this Meredith Willson section of our website – allow me to share one more personal story…

Looking for more resources on Meredith Willson? Check out our suggestions here.

Kudos to Tyler Brinegar, Senior Producer & Director at Iowa PBS – who used one of our rare B&W photos in his February 2023 Iowa PBS production on Iowa’s very own Meredith Willson. Click here for more!

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