“The Victors” has come to define football Saturdays for many Michigan fans, and it’s no surprise that the birth of the beloved song stemmed from one of the most famous football victories of all-time.
Louis Elbel, a student of the School of Music, created “The Victors” in 1898, in honor of Michigan’s famous win against the University of Chicago that led the Wolverines to their first undefeated season since 1891, according to the Alumni Association’s website.
After the Wolverines secured their 12-11 victory against the Maroons with a touchdown followed by an extra point, Michigan fans, who traveled to the game by train, erupted in song and celebration and took to marching the streets of Chicago behind the University band.
Shortly after the victory, the game’s results were telephoned back to campus.
But despite overwhelming support for the Wolverines, Elbel, a member of the crowd, was dissatisfied with the songs and felt that the greatness of the event required a more uplifting melody, according to the Alumni Association’s website. His dissatisfaction led to the birth of “The Victors.”
Elbel ran back to his sister’s house in Chicago to record the notes of the song. He experimented with it on the piano and eventually finished the entire refrain.
On the train back to Ann Arbor, Elbel decided to convert the piece into a march and his humble creation emerged into a grand arrangement for 23 instruments.
The fight song’s premiere took place in 1899 when the “March King,” John Philip Sousa, came to Ann Arbor with his band, according to the Michigan Marching Band’s website. Sousa was employed to conduct the piece, which was met by overwhelming admiration with the audience.
The Minstrels, a University chorale group, first performed the lyrics two nights later at their concert, according to an article in the University Record.
Since its creation, Michigan fans young and old have proudly sung, “Hail to the Victors Valiant” for 111 years. Its victorious strains have rung at numerous events ranging from the annual University of Michigan Dance Marathon to President Gerald R. Ford’s funeral procession.
Elbel received the Band Alumni’s first Honorary Life Membership in 1951 for his creation, according to the Marching Band’s website.