Want to weigh in on whether controversial lyrics in the University of Utah’s fight song should change? Better hurry — the comment period ends Saturday.
Early this month, U. President David Pershing called for people to weigh in on “Utah Man” by sending emails to email@example.com. A committee is expected to weigh the responses and make a recommendation by the end of June. The inbox had about 350 emails as of Thursday.
The student government, later backed by the faculty senate, set off a firestorm last month when it asked Pershing to update the song’s repeated title phrase, as well as the line “our coeds are the fairest,” to be more inclusive. Changes could include “Utah Fan,” and “our students are the brightest,” but no specific switches have been formally proposed.
Pershing hasn’t set a deadline for making a decision and, as of last week, U. administrators hadn’t decided who will be on the recommendation committee under the leadership of the Office of Student Affairs.
Written more than a century ago by a mysterious lyricist or group of writers, the song’s sketchy history has an almost-folkloric quality.
“Its popularity and its ownership appears to lie with students,” said U. spokeswoman Maria O’Mara.
But the ditty has also seen its share of ups and downs, according to Marriott Library archivist Clint Bailey.
In 1936, the student-run Daily Utah Chronicle editorialized that despite being “real peppy,” the tune should be replaced with something original.
“What is the matter with us, anyhow?” the newspaper asked. “This campus has some good embryo songwriters ... the greatest service they could render this institution would be the writing of a real ‘hum-dinger’ of a song.”
Two years earlier, in 1934, the Utah Alumnus magazine ran a contest calling for new lyrics because the students were “tired” of the song — but “Utah Man” marched on.
Despite its staying power, the song’s authorship isn’t clear, said Bailey.
Other archivists couldn’t track down a byline nearly 40 years ago when the Mormon Tabernacle Choir requested copyright information to record the tune.
It appears the song was written after The Chronicle called for students to submit words for a university song put to the tune of “Solomon Levi” in 1901.
“No record could be found of the winner’s name; the best guess is that the entry was a fraternity effort,” according to a 1977 news release in the Marriott Library archives.
A retired professor, Mary Webster, gave credit to the U. football team in a 1978 Chronicle story. As a high school student, she lived below coach Joe Maddock and remembered hearing the team singing on the front porch, making up lyrics as they went.
Also unclear is the timing of a change to a past controversial lyric: “We drink our stein of lager and we smoke our big cigar.”
According to Webster, the football players often mumbled through the line, and “the public wouldn’t accept it because of the [Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] influence.”
The Chronicle parodied the line with “We drink our glass of buttermilk and smoke cubeb [a spice] in our pipe,” in 1919. The lyric was gone by the time the Webster article was written in 1978.
A new Utah fight song written by Mormon Tabernacle organist Robert Cundick, designed to include both women and men, was played at a Utah-Colorado State game in 2000, but that was its only apparent showing, Bailey said.
“Utah Man,” meanwhile, took on a new prominence in recent years when Urban Meyer was football coach and players sang the song with the student section after games.
To comment on whether “Utah Man” should change, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any historical documents on the song, contact the Marriott Library Special Collections by visiting: lib.utah.edu/collections/special-collections/