The Washington and Lee swing is the product of three Washington and Lee students attending the University at different times. The air of the chorus originated with Mark W. Sheafe, class of 1906, who was a law student from Watertown, S.D., and a natural-born musician. He sang in the Glee Club and was director of what was then known as the Mandolin and Guitar Club.
During the session of 1906-07 he picked out on his mandolin the air of "The Swing" and taught it to the men of the Guitar Club, who used it as an encore in their program. He called it simply "The Swing."
In the fall of 1907, a committee was appointed to get up songs for the annual V.P.I. football game. The committee posted a notice on the bulletin board asking that the student body submit any songs which they thought proper. At the meeting of the committee four or five songs were selected. Someone suggested that the words be written for "The Swing." C.A. Robbins, class of 1910, from Brooklyn, N.Y., generally known as "Tod," composed the words for the chorus, as they exist today.
The Swing immediately became immensely popular. It came to be known as the "Washington and Lee Swing" and was adopted as the official athletic song of the University -- merely the chorus part.
Thornton W. Allen, of Newark, N.J., who attended the University one year, 1909-10, was a musical genius. He directed the band, the orchestra, and was a member of the Glee Club. During his stay in the University he took hold of "The Swing" and wrote both the words and music for the verses, fitting them into the original and established chorus. He then had the complete "Washington and Lee Swing" copyrighted.
Thornton Allen was the chap who really "plugged" the song into national popularity. It is doubtful that one can find a single album of college songs produced by reputable recording companies that does not include the Washington and Lee Swing. On the strength of "The Swing's" popularity, Allen organized a music publishing firm in New York which was the nation's leading producer and seller of college and school songs. Allen died in July, 1944.
The Swing was published in 1910, while Allen and Robbins were still in college at W&L. Sheafehad graduated. Since that time the melody is known to have been adolpted by more than 50 schools and colleges (perhaps hundreds more).
In the 1930's, there was considerable furore raised over the actual ownership of "The Swing." Tulane University used it during a Rose Bowl game in 1932 and, during the LSU-Tulane football game in 1931, bands of both schools "worked it to death," according to a letter from an irate W&L man in New Orleans. The Tulane Band went so far as to refer to it as the "Tulane Swing." Also in 1930, the University of Alabama band called it the "Alabama Swing" and played it at ball games and on the radio. In the same year Rudy Vallee sang it over the air as the "Tulane Swing." Allen finally precluded the Alabama and Tulane Plagiarisms through the simple expedient of composing new songs for those schools.
The Swing is probably one of the few, if not only, college tunes ever used in national politics. When John W. Davis, W&L Class of 1892, was running for President on the Democrat ticket in 1924, the Swing was used as the official "fight song" in his campaign. He was defeated by Calvin Coolidge.
Listen to the W&L Swing
"Washington and Lee
Come cheer for Washington and Lee,
We're going to win another victory!
The White and Blue we will ever wave in triumph
For the University. RAH! RAH! RAH!
Fight to the finish we are with you,
Break through the line on every play;
Rush the ball on down the field
And we will win this game today.
When Washington and Lee's men fall in line,
We're going to win again another time;
For W&L I yell, I yell, I yell,
And for the University, I yell, like hell!
And we will fight! fight! fight! for every yard;
Circle the ends and hit that line right hard!
And we will roll those Wahoos on the sod!
Yes, by God! RAH! RAH! RAH!