As part of new series Last Word on College Football is looking at the history of college fight songs. Today the focus moves to Lexington and a look at The History of Kentucky’s Fight Song “On, On U of K”
A Long History
The history of Kentucky football traces all the way back to 1881. The then Kentucky State College played Kentucky University (now known as Transylvania University) in a series of three games. It was ten years later before the school played football again.
Dr. Carl Lampert wrote the melody to “On, On U of K” in 1922. At the time, Lampert was the first University of Kentucky Department Chair of Music. The next year, at the request of Lampert, student Troy Perkins won a contest held to write the lyrics for the payment of five dollars. The song first appeared in the 1925 version of the Kentuckian, the school’s yearbook.
While most of the time the Big Blue Nation merely claps along to the song, there are actual lyrics. Below are the words to the song along with a clip of the if you have never heard it.
“On, on, U of K, we are right for the fight today,
Hold that ball and hit that line;
Ev’ry Wildcat star will shine;
We’ll fight, fight, fight, for the blue and white
As we roll to that goal, Varsity,
And we’ll kick, pass and run, ’till the battle is won,
And we’ll bring home the victory.”
In addition to the instrumental version above you can hear a version of the song with words from the AcoUStiKats, a group featured on NBC’s “The Sing Off.”
While many casual fans relate the song with the Wildcats’ basketball program, as you can see the words are specific to football. The song was adapted in 1925 as the official fight song for the University.
Lampert owned to rights to the song until he gave them to the Thornton Allen Company in 1941. That company later became Bro and Sis Music (BNS) based in New York City. Lampert’s widow renewed the copyright for the song in 1952 on behalf of herself and Perkins.
In 2010 the Papa John’s Pizza chain used the song in a commercial featuring Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari. BNS sued Papa John’s on March 31, 2011 for $150,000 demanding all copies of the commercial be destroyed. One of the more interesting parts of the suit is the fact Papa John’s was a corporate sponsor of Kentucky athletics at the time.
On, On …
Since its first publication in 1925, On, On U of K has become one of the most recognizable songs in all of college sports. It routinely ranks as one of the best and most original fight songs.
Thanks for checking out this history of Kentucky’s fight song here at Last Word on College Football. Over the summer many more features are forthcoming on college fight songs. As we get closer to September we will get you ready for the 2017 season with in-depth team previews.