PBS-Iowa – The History of the Iowa Fight Song.

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

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.

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.

The Iowa Fight Song became an immediate hit and was introduced by the Hawkeye Basketball Pep Band in the Iowa Field House on February 12, 1951 at the Iowa-Indiana basketball game. Click here to read more.

Thanks to Iowa-PBS and Dr. Eric Bush – Director of the Hawkeye Marching Band – here are some amazing pics from the 4.5 minute promo video produced by Iowa-PBS – Click here to watch the PBS-Iowa Video – The History of the Iowa Fight Song.

Click here to read about the Iowa-PBS full-hour documentary, Meredith Willson – America’s Music Man.

Meredith Willson was born May 18, 1902 in Mason City, Iowa and distinguished himself as a writer of symphonic works and popular songs. His most famous work – The Music Man – premiered on Broadway in 1957, and was adapted twice for film – 1962 and 2003. Over the decades, there have also been numerous revivals of the stage version as well. In 2022 – even in the midst of COVID – the famed actor, Hugh Jackman, brought yet another successful run on Broadway. Read more here.

After leaving Mason City, Meredith attended the Institute of Musical Art – later called the Juilliard School of Music – in New York City, and was a flutist in John Philip Sousa’s band (1921-1923). He also played with the New York Philharmonic (1924-1929), and worked at the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in radio. Read more here.

In one last gasp to capture a national audience, NBC Radio pulled out all the stops, airing a 90-minute star-studded program, The Big Show, beginning on Sunday evening, November 5, 1950 from 6 to 7:30 pm (EST). Read more here.

Each show, originating from The Center Theatre in New York’s Radio City – with occasional broadcasts from Hollywood – included some of the biggest names in the world of entertainment.

In the late 1940’s, a brave music reviewer for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Les Zachels, challenged his friend, Meredith Willson, to come up with a new, and much more appropriate, fight song for the Hawkeyes. Read more here.

Meredith took the challenge and on Sunday, December 31, 1950, on the ninth edition of The Big Show, Willson introduced, to a New Years Eve national radio audience, his new creation, The Iowa Fight Song. Read more here.

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. Read more here.

Opening on Broadway on December 19, 1957, The Music Man ran for a marathon 1,375 performances. Willson’s award-winning score includes the songs “Seventy-Six Trombones,” “Trouble,” “Goodnight, My Someone,” and “Till There Was You,” (a huge hit for the Beatles in 1963). Read more here.

So, for 70-plus years now, the University of Iowa Hawkeye Marching Band and Hawkeye Pep Band have continued the tradition – playing Meredith Willson’s Iowa Fight Song at every athletic event on campus, and all around the Big Ten. With all of the national exposure given to Iowa athletics, most folks around the country now associate this familiar pep song with The Iowa Hawkeyes! Click here to read more about the Hawkeye Marching Band.

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

So, here’s a tip of the old hat to Meredith Willson and his Iowa Fight Song!

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!

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

OK – are you ready for this? Did you know that Meredith Willson’s Iowa Fight Song shares similar musical ideas with his best-known Christmas song – It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas? Both are written around the same time and once you listen, the two tunes are interchangeable! Need proof? Listen to our trombone-tooting friends at Penn State…

Want proof that It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas and The Iowa Fight Song are cousins? Give a listen to the trombone section from Penn State – Click here to view on YouTube.

DYK-February 27, 2023

Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

Meredith Willson: America’s Music Man Preview, Iowa-PBS

Iowa PBS Presents Meredith Willson: America’s Music Man, February 9, 2023, Iowa-PBS

The University of Iowa Hawkeye Marching Band Facebook Page

Katie R. BuehnerDirector of the University of Iowa Rita Benton Music Library

Hawkeye Marching Band pics, The University of Iowa Digital Library

Our History, University of Iowa Music Department

History – Hawkeye Marching Band, University of Iowa

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