Celebrating alma maters: 125 years of ‘The Red and Blue’ and ‘Hail, Pennsylvania!’

two pages of musical notes and lyrics
Sung at all official University occasions, “The Red and Blue” was composed by William J. Goeckel, College Class of 1895 and Law Class of 1896. The words were written by Harry E. Westervelt, Medicine Class of 1898.

The Penn community knows the chorus: Hurrah, Hurrah, Pennsylvania, Hurrah for the Red and the Blue! And they know what to do: wave an arm back and forth to the beat of each word while singing with gusto. 

It’s been like that for decades with “The Red and Blue,” composed 125 years ago. Also written in 1895 was the University’s official alma mater, “Hail, Pennsylvania!” 

President Amy Gutmann says singing along with the “The Red and Blue” is the “most cherished” and “best known” tradition in song at Penn. 

“At a football game at historic Franklin Field, at Convocation or Commencement, or at any University event, whenever the chorus to the song was sung students would stand and wave their hats side to side with the music,” she says.  

It’s a special song for the entire Penn community, says Kushol Gupta, assistant director of the Penn Band and a Penn alum, Class of 1997.

“It doesn’t matter what class year you are from. Without much prompting people know what to do with the arm motions and the lyrics. It’s an important thread that binds our community,” says Gupta, a research assistant professor of biochemistry and biophysics in the Perelman School of Medicine. “Especially now that we have to remain apart.” 

The Penn Band plays the “The Red and Blue” at every sporting event, without fail, Gupta says.  

People singing waving arms on basketball court
The Penn men’s basketball team sings “The Red and Blue” with Penn President Amy Gutmann and Coach Steve Donahue after Penn won the 2018 Ivy League Tournament in the Palestra. (Image: Eric Sucar)

Charlotte Cecarelli, a sophomore in the School of Nursing from North Haven, Connecticut, who plays the piccolo in the band, says both songs are important to her. “Penn has become a home for me, and these songs remind me of that, especially as I am able to play them alongside the band, which has now become a family to me,” she says. 

The vice president of the band, Adam Rose, says “The Red and Blue” embodies “the heart and soul” of Penn. “In the rain or shine, after a win or a loss, the band plays ‘The Red and Blue’ while the players on the field or court sing along with their fans,” says Rose, a sophomore biology major in the College of Arts & Sciences from  Sudbury, Massachusetts, who plays the mellophone and trumpet. 

“While for most of the game the band and players are separate, at the end everyone comes together, unified by this song, representing Penn and displaying their school spirit as a single group,” he says. “It is in these moments that you cannot help but feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself, and that is something that you simply cannot get in a classroom.”

The Penn Glee Club regularly sings “The Red and Blue” while performing at official functions, especially since the 1980s while under the direction of Bruce Montgomery. It was during that time that the song became the “de-facto alma mater,” says Gupta. 

The music for “The Red and Blue” was written by William J. Goeckel, College Class of 1895 and Law Class of 1896. The words were written by Harry E. Westervelt, Medicine Class of 1898. Back at the turn of the last century when Penn football games were broadcast nationally, “The Red and Blue” was known throughout the country and even adopted by high schools. 

Crowd at football game waving arms
The people attending the Penn vs. Gettysburg football game in September 1912 wave their arms while singing “The Red and Blue.” (Image: George Atwell Richardson)

Another favorite, Penn’s fight song “Fight On, Pennsylvania!” just celebrated its 100th anniversary.

The official alma mater, “Hail, Pennsylvania!” was written by Edgar M. Dilley, College Class of 1897. It was first sung in public in 1895 by the Glee Club at the Academy of Music.

The Penn Band also regularly plays “Hail, Pennsylvania,” Rose says. “The melody, ushered in by the trumpets and later picked up by the trombones, makes this song an effective, and grand, announcement for the start of each rehearsal.”