From the stands of Dyche Stadium to the ringtones of oh so many student cell phones, Northwestern is filled with the melody and break strain of “Go U Northwestern.” This comes as no surprise: Over the past century, the fight song composed by then-NUMB member Theodore Van Etten has infused itself into Wildcat ethos.
On the other hand, you might be surprised to hear how far and wide this tune has carried. If you happen upon a Friday night high school football game anywhere from the Mountain West to Deep South, you might just be treated to the melody of our fight song. Hundreds of middle and high schools and even another university have adopted “Go U Northwestern” as their own.
How far has our fair name spread? I started by asking around the University, but neither the Band Office nor the Archives had any statistics, so I turned to the Internet. I corresponded with six different band directors who use “Go U” as their school’s fight song – and this might just be the tip of the “Go U” iceberg. In Montana alone, the High School Association indicated that at least four schools use our fight song. A fifth has a fight song entitled “Go Ye Northwestern” – not likely a coincidence.
In fact, this is one example of how many of these schools kept the original melody but wrote their own lyrics. Wisconsin’s Waunakee High School sings these lyrics:
(Verse) “Go Waunakee High School Bring Us Fame Tonight,
Win or Lose We’re With You Warriors, Come On Team Let’s Fight, U Rah Rah,
As We Go Forward To Our Destiny,
Fight On, Fight On Brave Warriors As We Cheer You On To Victory.
(Interlude) Fight Team, Fight, Fight, Fight.
Win Team, Win Tonight.” (repeat verse)
This creativity is really special as it makes the song more relevant to Waunakee High School. Likewise, many other schools have done the same, thus personalizing their “Go U” experience.
Directors said they used a variety of criteria in their decisions to pick “Go U Northwestern” over other possible fight songs. In most cases, though, our song was chosen first and foremost for its great melody. Of course, there were other considerations: Firstly, Van Etten’s song is now in the public domain. Published under the initial title “Go Northwestern Go,” the work’s copyright expired during the 1990s, which is advantageous for schools with limited budgets as it can be used free of charge.
Second, for some it came to fitting in the school name into the lyrics. That’s in part why Ann Lusher, Director of Bands at Bureau Valley High School in downstate Illinois, plays our song at “all sporting events.”
And third, there needed to be a lack of rival high schools that had already adopted “Go U.” As Northwestern knows from playing Kansas State, it’s bad enough when you play a team with the same mascot – imagine the same fight song echoing from each band! Mr. Wayne Lu of Iowa’s South Hardin High School wrote,
Another conference school already uses the Illinois fight song. And, a neighboring school uses the Ohio State fight song. We were not allowed to use Iowa’s since our town is split between Iowa and Iowa State fans. Nobody uses the Wisconsin or Minnesota fight song with good reason. And, the Penn State, Purdue, Michigan State, and Indiana songs are not very memorable in any way. The Michigan fight song is obnoxious, and it is hard for me not to sing the alternate lyrics in my head every time I hear it. So it came down to either Northwestern or Auburn (it was killing me that we were considering an SEC fight song). The Northwestern fight song, from a musical standpoint, is far superior. That is what we decided on.
Yet, there is one case out there that demands extra attention: the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). According to Director of Band Dennis AsKew, “Go U Northwestern” became the university’s first official fight song in 1998 and was immediately played by the newly formed student pep band at all home basketball and volleyball games. During this time period Northwestern student athletes competed against UNCG in men’s soccer, women’s soccer, and golf. Unbeknownst to them, they weren’t the only thing spreading “far the fame of our fair name!” Yet, just as century ago Van Etten felt a calling to write a fight song that directly reflected Northwestern, UNCG student Peter Borroto composed “The Blue and Gold.” The homegrown fight song became the new official fight song in 2011. But for those 13 years, “Go U” was played with pride and acted as a source of strength for UNCG student athletes.
It’s clear that our possession of “Go U” needs a retrofit. We should embrace this change and spread our song far and wide, at your work, your children’s school, or as a member of the community. Wouldn’t it be great if all these schools saw themselves an extension of the Northwestern family? No matter the lyrical changes or stylistic touches, the call for loyalty to ones school and hard work are universal, and the melody…unforgettable.
Note: Originally published in the Spring 2012 issue of The Growl: the newsletter of the Northwestern University Marching Band Alumni Association (NUMBALUMS). Reprinted by the Author who retains all rights to the article.