UK's acoUstiKats teach viewers "On, On, U of K." Video by Amy Jones and Kody Kiser/UK Public Relations and Marketing.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 25, 2013) — From Commonwealth Stadium to Rupp Arena, the sounds of the University of Kentucky fight song, "On, On, U of K," continue to fill the air 90 years after its first performance. German immigrant Carl A. Lampert is credited with composing the beloved fight song with lyrics by UK student Troy Perkins.
Lampert arrived in the United States with his parents at age 6. His collegiate education took the future musician and scholar to Elmhurst College in Elmursht, Ill.; Chicago Musical College; and the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. After completing his studies in America, Lampert traveled back to Europe in 1910 for further studies in Berlin and Prague, and he even performed in an orchestra under the direction of Johannes Brahms.
Upon his return to the states, Lampert played with the Chicago Symphony and first taught at the University of North Dakota. He would find his way to UK in 1918, not long after his friend Frank L. McVey was named UK president.
Soon after his arrival in the Bluegrass, Lampert embarked on a career of several musical "firsts" for UK. He was named the first head of the Department of Music (now the School of Music in the UK College of Fine Arts). Besides serving as an administrator, "Prof," as his students referred to him, organized the UK Marching Band (now known as the Wildcat Marching Band), Men's and Women's Glee Clubs, the University Philharmonic Orchestra and the Central Kentucky Choral Society. Lampert also created a music contest for high school students in the Commonwealth.
In addition to introducing several new musical groups to the university and region, Lampert literally was responsible for the clothes on the back of several UK musicians, outfitting the UK band with new uniforms to replace military uniforms of World War I. He eventually was reimbursed by the university.
Lampert will probably be most remembered though for his monumental contributions to UK's musical traditions having composed both "On, On, U of KY" and "Alma Mater." The music for "On, On, U of K" was composed by Lampert in 1922. For the song's lyrics, the composer first offered his students a $5 prize to write words for the tune. When no one offered lyrics, Lampert asked student Troy Perkins to give it a try. Perkins would then add the familiar words still sung at football and basketball games today.
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.
"On, On, U of K" was first performed at a student convocation in 1923.
After composing the university fight song, Lampert would return to work on "Hail, Kentucky," originally composed in 1917. The song would not get lyrics until almost 10 years later when Josephine Funkhouser, wife of W.D. Funkhouser, suggested some words for the work. The title of the song was then changed to "Alma Mater" and received its first performance in 1927 by the University Men's Glee Club.
Though Lampert would retire from service at UK in 1944, his family continued to make an impact on UK for years to come. His son-in-law Bert Johnson was an All-Southeastern Conference half-back at the university in the 1930s and went on to play seven years in the NFL for the Brooklyn Football Dodgers, the Chicago Bears, the Chicago Cardinals and the Philadelphia Eagles. Grandson Phillip Johnson would play for Adolph Rupp as a reserve forward on his 1958 NCAA Championship team. Great grandson Richard Johnson was a National Merit Scholar who earned national recognition from Phi Kappa Tau fraternity as their outstanding undergraduate in 1986 and later became the first person to graduate from UK with a dual JD/MBA degree.
As generations of Lampert's family come and go and make their own mark on the university, the composer's legacy lives on and on.
History compiled from Kentucky Alumni magazine story by Linda Perry. More about Lampert's family can be found here.
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