O.K. Oklahoma at 65

Although heard at every Sooner football game, O.K. Oklahoma is perhaps the least familiar of all our fight songs. Unlike Oklahoma, it didn’t come from a popular song, and unlike Boomer Sooneritself, it wasn’t created from existing songs.

Fred Waring – the same man who financed and promoted the blender named after him – was one of the most popular bandleaders of the early 20th century. His group, known as “Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians” (or “Fred Waring and the Singing Pennsylvanians”) had best-selling records and top-rated radio programs of the day for various sponsors, including Ford, General Electric, and a few cigarette companies.

In 1939, Waring’s show was on the NBC Red Radio Network, one of two owned by NBC’s parent company, RCA. (In 1943, under FCC orders to break up a broadcasting monopoly, NBC sold its other network, the “Blue” network, to Edward J. Noble. It eventually became ABC.) As was the habit in those days, the program was named after its sponsor, so it wasn’t the “Fred Waring” show, it was the “Chesterfield Hour.”

As part of a promotion, Waring would compose a new fight song for any college or university whose students or faculty submitted enough signatures on a petition. The University of Oklahoma students rose to the challenge in 1939, and in response, Waring composed the music and lyrics to a new song, O.K. Oklahoma. Although information about it is no longer present on SoonerSports.com’s “Fight Songs” page, one Oklahoma pastor has the story (although he says the song was commissioned, not written as part of a promotion):

In 1939, the University of Oklahoma commissioned Fred Waring to write an additional fight song for the Sooners. “O.K. Oklahoma” premiered in a live broadcast on December 1, 1939. Since then it has continued to be a part of Oklahoma football games. Today, it is played as the football team scores extra points after a touchdown and the Sooner Schooner rolls onto the field.

O.K. Oklahoma, K.O. the foe today.
We say O.K. Oklahoma, the Sooners know the way. ‘Ray!
S double-O-N-E-R-S! We’ll win today or miss our guess.
O.K. Oklahoma, K.O. the foe today.

We’ll march down the field with our heads held high,
Determined to win any battle we’re in,
We’ll fight with all our might for the Red and White.
March on, march on down the field for a victory is nigh.
You know we came to win the game for Oklahoma,
And so we will or know the reason why!

We’ll march down the field with our heads held high,
With ev’ry resource we’ll hold to the course,
And pledge our heart and soul to reach the goal.
March on, march on down the field as we sing the battle cry.
Dig in and fight for the Red and White of Oklahoma,
So we’ll take home a victory or die!

Somewhere through the years, the verse that begins with the song’s name was dropped from the Pride of Oklahoma‘s playlist. The current arrangement, made by world-renowned composer and arranger John Higgins at the request of then-new band director Gene Thrailkill in the early 1970s, does not even contain music for the verse. (Pride Alumni who remember starting at rehearsal letter “A” are only skipping a Higgins-composed introduction.) Higgins’s arrangement is at least the third performed by University Bands on a regular basis – after the song premiered on the NBC Radio network, director William Wehrend wrote to Waring asking for the arrangement, promising that in return, the bandsmen pledged to smoke only Chesterfields!

Thousands of Sooner fans who know the words to the two choruses sing along with The Pride, and people who call the University of Oklahoma and get placed on hold may hear either the Pride or the University Chorus performing the piece, complete with verse. The original piano sheet music even turns up from time to time. In just the past few years, The Pride has added a new, shorter version, replacing much of the second verse (starting with the low brass lead) with a new chant:

O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A! Boomer! Sooner! Go O-U!

It all began sixty-five years ago today, when O.K. Oklahoma debuted on The Chesterfield Hour. Now, in honor of the Pride’s Centennial celebration, we’re pleased to share the original December 1, 1939 broadcast premiere of O.K. Oklahoma with you in MP3 format, as performed by Waring’s Pennsylvanians and arranged by Oklahoma native Lara Hoggard.

O.K. Oklahoma Premiere (12/01/1939) (MP3, mono)

Our thanks to the Fred Waring’s America archive at Penn State University for making this rare recording of an important part of Pride history available to us!