Washington and Lee Swing: most famous footy song of all time?

George Washington & Robert E Lee

Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia was named after two very famous Americans. Another of its claims to fame is that it has one of the world’s best known “fight songs”, The Washington and Lee Swing.
Wikipedia says that, before it morphed into a swing, Dixieland and bluegrass standard, The Washington and Lee Swing was one of the most well known — and widely borrowed — football marches ever written. Schools and colleges from Tulane to Slippery Rock to Gonzaga to Iowa State copied it (sometimes with attribution). It was written in 1910 by Mark W. Sheafe, Clarence A. (Tod) Robbins, and Thornton W. Allen. It has been recorded by virtually every important jazz and swing musician, including Glenn Miller (with Tex Beneke on vocals), Louis Armstrong, Kay Kyser, Hal Kemp and the Dukes of Dixieland. Here’s Louis playing it with the Dukes of Dixieland.

In another style here is the version of Byron Berline, (American fiddle player), and his band.

And for a spirited version here are the Dixie Boys playing at the Gunpowder Factory, Barcarena, Portugal. The factory has been decommissioned in case you’re wondering. It’s now a cultural centre with gallery, museum, craft shops, live music etc.

I recently heard Kim Rushworth singing the parody “I got the legs from some old table, I got the arms from some old chair…..” to the tune, and my friend Bill Liddy tells me that last Saturday night at the Victorian Jazz Club, Peter Hooper’s wonderful Royal Garden Jazz Band played the tune as their opening number, and the following evening it was played by One More George at the Williamstown Jazz Club.

View of the City of Zacatecas in the State of the same name

Comparisons between Washington and Lee Swing and Zacatecas March have included allegations that Washington and Lee Swing was heavily influenced by (or even originally outright borrowed from) that earlier Mexican march, which was written in 1891 by Genaro Codino, and is the anthem of the State of Zacatecas in Mexico. It is also considered as the second national anthem of Mexico.

What do you think?

I don’t agree – but then I didn’t think that Men at Work had copied Kookaburra Sits on an Old Gum Tree, so who am I to judge?

BUT I do have a sneaking suspicion about that Rudy Vallee hit from the 1930s – Betty Co-Ed.

And thank you Bill for the idea for this post.

2 responses to “Washington and Lee Swing: most famous footy song of all time?

  1. “Betty Coed” was obviously derived from “Washington And Lee Swing”; just listen to the first few measures with two side-by-side YouTube browser tabs. I cannot find any acknowledgement of that pilfery, though in my web searches. Your site is the closest so far!

  2. I think the main theme of Zacateca’s March is almost identical to Washington and Lee Swing. Try playing W&L along with the recording of the march and the resemblance is striking. It’s nice to know the parentage of W & L!
    Here in New Zealand a well-known tune, Maori Battalion, bears a strong resemblance to W & L S. Maybe it stemmed from Z’s march rather than from W&LS.

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