Fight, Illini! The Stadium Song

Fight, Illini! Cover

Cover for the sheet music to “Fight, Illini!” 1921

The University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium turned 90 years old last year, as it was officially dedicated in 1924, but planning and fundraising to build the stadium began long before that. The Memorial Stadium was intended as both an athletic field and memorial to the fallen soldiers of WWI, whose names are inscribed on the columns around the stadium, and it was built through the donations of UIUC students, alumni, and others, including corporate donors from Illinois. While both the need for a new athletic facility and a desire for a campus WWI memorial had been recognized before, in December 1920 the students voted to combine plans for a war memorial and new athletic field into one project [1]. The fundraising campaign to build Memorial Stadium started shortly thereafter. Fundraising efforts took different forms, but one particularly unique fundraising push was a song contest, the winning song then used to raise money through sheet music sales, and this resulted a newly composed Illini fight song – “Fight, Illini! The Stadium Song.”

The song contest was announced in the Daily Illini on April 6th 1921 [2], and the submissions were judged on the 13th and 14th. The songs were judged by Prof. J. Lawrence Erb, director of the School of Music, Director A. A. Harding of the University band, Lloyd Morey, comptroller, Dean Ruby E. C. Mason, and Director of Athletics G. Huff [3]. The winning song was written by Rose Otlusky, who was a junior at the time, graduating in 1922 with a degree in Journalism [4], and the lyrics were written by Sampson Raphaelson, who had graduated from the college of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1917 [5] and was working in the department of English at that time [6]. Otlusky and Raphaelson won a $50 prize for their song, worth about $650 in today’s money.

"Fight, Illini!" manuscript

“Fight, Illini!” manuscript

The sheet music for the song was first published in the July 1921 issue of the Alumni News [7], and then published as sheet music to be sold in stores on campus. In addition to printed copies of the music, the Archives holds the original manuscript for this song which is located in the Rose Oltusky Edelson Papers RS 41/20/212. Digital photographs of the original manuscript are available by clicking the image to the right.

While this song did not enter the standard playlist for Illinois football games along with songs like “Oskee Wow Wow” and “Illinois Loyalty,” “Fight, Illini!” is an interesting piece showing an intersection between university fundraising, school spirit, and the “Tin Pan Alley” period of popular American music.


[1] “STADIUM UNIVERSITY CHOICE BY 1353 TOTAL.” Daily Illini, December 10, 1920.

[2] “OFFER $50 REWARD FOR STADIUM SONG.” Daily Illini, April 6, 1921.

[3] “STADIUM SONG CONTEST ENDS, FIVE WILL JUDGE.” Daily Illini, April 12, 1921

[4] Rose J. Oltusky in the 1923 Illio, pg 124

[5] Sampson Raphaelson in the 1918 Illio, pg 86

[6] “Composer.” Daily Illini, April 23, 1921.

[7] Copy of the Alumni News sheet music, digitized from the Rose Oltusky Edelson Papers.

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