Hail! Minnesota (also called simply Minnesota in its early years) had become a well-liked and often-sung U of M anthem in the five years since its 1904 debut; however, Gopher rooters felt that it lacked something. The Minneapolis Tribune commented,
"Minnesota...is set to comparatively slow music, and the students complain that they have to use a dirge when they want to sing something peculiar to their own alma mater... At football games a snappy, lively air and enthusiastic words are wanted... Minnesota should be retained for formal or solemn occasions..."
Rooter King Russell "Bunny" Rathbun noted, "Minnesota is beautiful, but too mournful to warm the feet in the bleachers."
A University Alumnus, Dean B. Gregg ('08), finally was motivated to help resolve this dilemma during the Gophers-Iowa game on October 2, 1909. According to The Minnesota Daily,
"While at the Iowa game, (Gregg) discovered the true cause of half-hearted enthusiasm in the lack of a rousing song. Realizing the need on the spur of the moment he offered five dollars for a song that would fit..."
The Daily immediately took up the calling and doubled the prize on October 7. By October 9 the Minneapolis Tribune had added fifty dollars to the pot and taken over sponsorship of the project. A few days later, Minneapolis businessman Horace Lowry contributed forty dollars, bringing the total prize to an even $100.
Although the initial Daily promotion suggested that the contest be open only to current U of M students and alumni, The Tribune quickly revised this policy to allow entries from the general public, publicizing the contest far and wide. A group of five judges was chosen, including Governor Alexander O. Oberhart, President Cyrus Northrop, Music Professor Carlyle Scott, and two students, J.A. Sende (Chief Musician of the University Band), and Arthur Allen, President of the Glee Club.
Compositions poured in, from professionals and amateurs alike, from as far away as Los Angeles and New York. By the November 1 deadline, 93 songs had been entered, and the judges had their work cut out. They met on Saturday, November 6 at President Northrop's home. According to the Tribune,
"The judges found it easy enough to determine what song presented the most suitable array of words, but it was a little more difficult to pass on the harmony and the 'magic of sweet sounds.'"
Then Governor Eberhart showed that he was, in addition to a statesman and a humorist, a singer of more than ordinary ability. He sang the words of many of the songs to the accompaniment of Professor Carlyle Scott on the piano. President Northrop, too, showed that he was something of a vocalist, and frequently, "prexy" could be heard gently humming one of the melodies that the judges were considering.
By evening, they had chosen a winner. He was Floyd M. Hutsell, the 27-year-old choir director of the First Methodist Episcopal Church in Minneapolis. The judges proclaimed that his entry, entitled Minnesota, Hats Off To Thee, was "light and catchy . . . its lilt and vigor will set the hearts of the Gophers and their friends all aglow with athletic fervor and be a valuable aid to them in many a hard-fought battle." The words and music were published in the November 14 Tribune under the title, the U of M Rouser, carrying Hutsell's inscripting, "Dedicated to BA Rose, Band Master, U of M" A week later, a special supplement in the Sunday Tribune presented the song under a colorful souvenir cover.
Prior to the tune's public debut at the Minnesota-Michigan game on November 20, reaction to the Rouser was decidedly mixed. One student said, "It hasn't enough spirit. It sounds like a kindergarten song." Another opined that, "The chorus is great if it weren't for the words." A third, "I think it will be a lot better when the band plays it." President Northrop did not mince words, and was quoted as saying, "It has no distinction of language. It is commonplace and not worthy of Minnesota. We shouldn't have given the prize until a really good song was submitted."
With this somewhat shaky beginning, the tune gradually gained favor as it became used regularly, but the composer's first (and apparently only) verse was eventually dropped from use in favor of the refrain. Hutsell's lyrics were as follows:
Honor to our college, Minnesota U!
Loyal to thy standards, We'll ever be untrue.
Underneath thy pennant pulses beat with pride, and
Victory e'er shall be our aim o'er the nation wide!
Minnesota, hats off to thee,
To thy colors true we shall ever be...
Firm and strong, united are we.
Rah, rah, rah, for Ski-U-Mah,
Rah, rah, rah, rah, rah, rah, rah,
Rah for the U of M.
Ironically, the University of Minnesota might have had another song gain equal fame with the Rouser. Legend tells that W.T. Purdy, at the urging of his cohort Carl Beck, decided at the last minute to withdraw his entry from the Tribune contest. The lyrics "Minnesota, Minnesota" were re-written as "On Wisconsin, On Wisconsin," and the rest is history.
Floyd Hutsell went on to relative fame in the music business. Choosing the glamorous stage name "Robert LaMar," he went to New York City and traveled the vaudeville circuits, on one occasion touring with Eddie Cantor. He later became an expert in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, producing several in New York and appearing on Broadway with great success in the role of Koko in Mikado. After a number of years teaching opera at various American conservatories, LaMar eventally settled in Houston, Texas, where he and his wife established a distinguished program of music in one of the local churches.
The composer of the Rouser spent his retirement years in Madill, Oklahoma as a local church choir director and music teacher. Upon his death in 1961 at the age of 79, Mrs. LaMar in a loving tribute to her husband's musical career erected a monument at his grave. The name LaMar is engraved on its granite shaft, but the name of Floyd M. Hutsell and the music to the refrain of the Minnesota Rouser are emblazoned on one side of the marker to perpetuate his most lasting musical accomplishment.
The sound of the University Band striking up the Minnesota Rouser has inspired generations of Minnesotans to leap to their feet and join in rhythmic applause, vocalizing those spirited words, "Minnesota, Hats Off to Thee!..."