Hail! Minnesota

It was the summer of 1903. Truman Rickard and his friend LeRoy Arnold, each having successfully completed his junior year at the University of Minnesota, packed their camping gear in a sulky and made their way to Webb Lake near Hackensack for a well-deserved camping trip. Rickard took with him an autoharp, as would any budding young amateur composer looking forward to a week of relative solitude.

Sitting next to their campfire, as the two companions contemplated the general state of affairs in the word, Arnold had an inspiration. "We ought to have a class song." Picking out a melody that suited the woodland setting, Rickard dreamily responded, "Yes, it would be a good thing." The subject did not come up again until well into the following school year, when Arnold found himself in charge of the 1904 senior class play. Discussions among the play committee members revealed a unanimous desire that a class song should be written, its presentation to coincide with staging of the annual dramatic production. As a result, Rickard was asked to compose the music, and a young woman student was to add words. Truman produced three melodies, of which one was particularly pleasing to the committee. However, when after a time the young lady failed to provide the requested lyrics, it appeared that the idea of a class song might never reach fruition. Rickard's mother urged him to write some verses himself rather than let the song die. He enlisted the assistance of a close friend of President Northrop, Rev. Dr. Ernest Shurtleff of the First Congregational Church. The reverend supplied valuable suggestions about the sentiment and lofty expressions of love for the University that should be contained in a song representing the senior class. Rickard's composition had it first public performance on Class Day, May 28, 1904. The class play, entitled The Apple of Discord, was performed that evening in the old Metropolitan Theatre on Marquette Avenue. When the moment for the song was reached, the first verse was sung:

Minnesota, hail to thee, Hail to thee our college dear. Thy light shall ever be A beacon bright and clear. Thy sons and daughters true Will proclaim thee near and far. They will guard thy fame And adore thy name, Thou shalt be their Northern Star.

Then, turning toward the box of President Northrop, the chorus sang the verse that had been written in tribute to him:

Hail to thee our Prexy, Sire, Thou hast made us all thine own, And our hearts one boon aspire. That our love may be thy throne. Throughout our future years Naught can e'er thy memory mar. We will guard thy fame And adore thy name, Thou shalt be our Northern Star.

The song was again performed at commencement, and Rickard reluctantly agreed to come to the piano to play the accompaniment, after which he received many words of congratulations. The following fall, the editors of the various University periodicals were unanimous that this was a song that perhaps might fulfill the long-felt need for a Minnesota hymn. Arthur Upson, literary editor of the Minnesota Daily and recognized as a poet of unusual merit, composed two additional verses for consideration by the student body. Upson's first verse was readily adopted. Shortly thereafter, President Northrup came forward with a request. "Personally, I would enjoy the song more if the stanza concerning the President were omitted. I think it would be better taste to have the song concern only the University." He also requested a few minor revisions of Upson's third verse, to eliminate confusion between Minnesota, the state, and Minnesota, the university. Upson's verse as modified to comply with Prexy's wish:

Like the stream that bends to sea, Like the pine that seeks the blue, Minnesota, still for thee Thy sons are strong and true! From their woods and waters fair, From their prairies waving far. At thy call they throng With their shout and song Hailing thee, their Northern Star!

Through the winter, spring and fall of 1905 the song gained in popularity. Being sung in chapel each Friday, Rickard's first verse gradually became recognized as the school hymn, with Upson's lyrics serving as a second verse. The words remained unchanged thereafter, and the song became generally used at all student gatherings, even at sporting events. Hail! Minnesota was made the official state song by resolution of the 1945 legislature, the only change being that the second line reads, "Hail to thee, our State so dear!" instead of "college dear." Truman Rickard had an artistic temperament, and while he was interest in history, historical sites and the beauties of nature, music was his main interest. Of course, he will always be remembered for Hail! Minnesota, but he had other musical compositions to his credit, including To A Friend, The Faith of the Mountains, In A Garden, Heaven's Windowsill and The Mystery of You. His sense of aesthetics was too strong to allow him to commercialize on any of these works. In 1925, he entered a song in the University contest and won $50 for his composition of the tune and lyrics later to be known as Minnesota Fight, which endures to the present day. Arthur Upson came to the University in 1894, entering as a member of the class of 1898. Ill health continuously interrupted his studies, and he never fulfilled the requirements for a degree. However, his acclaim as a gifted poet was widespread, and he was awarded his degree in 1905 after publication of one of his distinguished volumes of poetry. He became a member of the English Department faculty in 1906. Tragically, he drowned while writing a play in verse during a vacation in northern Minnesota in 1908. Literary men of his time called Upson "an aristocrat of verse" and "a writer's writer," hailing the robust quality of his plays as well as the delicacy of his sonnets. In 1924, a room in the University library (now Walter Library) was named in his honor. In the Arthur Upson Reading Room, students may read for pleasure, but they may not study. James Gray wrote, "This place honors the memory of one who would have said that in a university where there are many shrines to scholarship, there should be one shrine reserved for the innocent enjoyment of art." In 1964, it became a special collections reading room.

Adapted from the U of M Marching Band Centennial Book, Minnesota Hats Off to Thee, ©1992 by The University of Minnesota Band Alumni Society, which remains available for purchase from the University of Minnesota Bookstores