Tennessee Songs

There’s nothing like a verse of the alma mater to bring a tear to a Vol’s eye, but did you know it wasn’t written by an alumnus? Take a look at the history behind a few of the university’s most beloved songs.

Down the Field song lyrics“DOWN THE FIELD”
Also known as “Here’s to Old Tennessee,” our official fight song lyrics were written by Robert Clayton “Red” Matthews, an engineering professor who came to UT in 1907. He became known as UT’s first official cheerleader for his sideline antics and for establishing acrobatic cheerleading at the university. In a 1973 issue of Alumnus magazine, Matthews said the song was “swiped from Vanderbilt—who got it from Yale’s ‘Down the Field!’” The song is attributed to two Yale alumni, Caleb W. O’Conner (1904) and Stanleigh P. Friedman (1905), and has been used by many high schools and colleges across the country.

Download a PDF of the Down the Field poster.

Fight Vols, Fight song lyrics“FIGHT VOLS, FIGHT”
The lyrics of “Fight Vols, Fight” were written by Gwen Sweet, and the music was composed by Thornton W. Allen and Milo Sweet (Gwen’s husband). The Sweets and Allen wrote music as part of Allen Intercollegiate Music Inc., and composed fight songs for other universities as well. “Fight Vols, Fight” was copyrighted in 1939, and by May of that year, the song was included in a dance folio of famous southern college songs. It was noted in a 1939 edition of Alumnus magazine that the inclusion of a new song was highly unusual for the folio series, but the publishing company made an exception for “Fight Vols, Fight!” due to its popularity.

Download a PDF of the Fight Vols, Fight poster.

Alma Mater song lyricsALMA MATER
UT’s alma mater was officially adopted in 1928 after a yearlong contest sponsored by the school’s musical organizations. Students, faculty, and alumni, or members of their families, were eligible to compete for a $50 prize for a song with both original words and music. Mary Fleming Meek, then living in Chattanooga, won the contest with her song titled “On a Hallowed Hill.” The words were inspired by the Torch Night and Aloha Oe ceremonies. Although Meek was not an alumna, she had attended UT’s Summer School of the South. Both her husband, John Lamar Meek, and her son were graduates, and her father was a former trustee of the university. Meek’s great-grandfather John Mason prepared the design for Old College, the first building on the Hill, which was razed in 1919 in preparation for the construction of Ayres Hall. Meek died in 1929, shortly after her composition was selected as the winner of the contest.

Download a PDF of the Alma Mater poster.


Download a PDF of the Rocky Top poster.

UT 225th anniversaryThis story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary celebration. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.

Learn more about UT’s 225th anniversary

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Soayeb @Songs July 7, 2017 - 8:45 am

This is an amazing post.
I’m very happy after reading Tennessee Songs information.
Many many thanks, Cassandra Sproles.

David January 8, 2018 - 1:44 am

Learned a lot from the history of some beautiful songs.

John Williams January 16, 2018 - 4:10 pm

Thank you for the posters.

Does Spirit of The Hill have words or is it instrumental?

Andy Fichera January 16, 2018 - 9:40 pm

It has words, but as I’ve seen them, one part doesn’t really for the music. If I remember them correctly:

Oh, what a thrill
When the boys on the Hill
Fall in line
We know they’ll fight
And then we’ll yell (yell, yell) with all out might
When the Vols take the field
They’re out to win
For us again
Oh, it’s Tennessee
It’s the old UT
It’s the Orange and the White on the field
So we cheer the Volunteers
As we go on through the years
With the Spirit of the Hill

David January 18, 2018 - 12:52 am

I have always wondered about the words to Soorit if the Hill. Seems like the music works it the following lines in your lyrics are omitted:

For they’re out to win
For us again

What do you think?

Steve Day January 18, 2018 - 7:51 pm

We had different words in the Pride. Don’t think they’d let me post them here. 🙂

Ann Marie January 18, 2018 - 6:47 pm

It does have words!

“Oh! What a thrill when the boys on the hill fall in line, We know they’ll fight with all their might;
And then we’ll yell, yell, and yell when the Vols take the field they’re out to win for us again,
Oh, it’s Tennessee, it’s the old U.T., it’s the Orange and White on the field!
So we cheer the Volunteers as they go on through the years with the Spirit of the Hill!”

Philip January 16, 2018 - 4:27 pm

Good article, and the posters are amazing. I always have trouble connecting lyrics with a tune. I have all the UT tunes in my memory, but could not tell you which is which (except Rocky Top, of course). It would be helpful to have a sound clip with each song you have highlighted, and there are others songs you have omitted. How about using the Pride’s football pre-game show as a template and adding sound to the printed lyrics?

Sherrie January 16, 2018 - 4:54 pm

Fabulous post — Thank you for the posters — so fun! GO BIG ORANGE!!!

Zack January 18, 2018 - 7:15 pm

Awesome. Go Vols!

Harvey Sproul January 22, 2018 - 10:31 pm

Its great to see the actual words to music we hear many times each year–but they’ll never overtake Rocky Top.

Bob Matthews October 19, 2019 - 2:58 am

I am Robert Clayton Matthews III
CLASS OF 1971’ my dad RC MATTHEWS JR 1939
We knew my grandfather wrote the fight song. I ran track 1967/1971
I bleed orange and white

SEOPrix August 2, 2020 - 3:41 pm

Learned a lot from the history of some beautiful songs.

Comments are closed.