UW News

May 12, 2021

UW Libraries digital exhibit explores iconic UW fight song, ‘Bow Down to Washington’

UW News


A new UW Libraries digital exhibit explores the history of the University of Washington’s century-old fight song, “Bow Down to Washington” in text, video and lots of music.

A new UW Libraries digital exhibit by Dylan Burns explores the history of the University of Washington's century-old fight song, "Bow Down to Washington" in text, video and lots of music.

Dylan Burns

The exhibit was curated for the UW Music Library by Dylan Burns, arts and humanities librarian, with Catherine Matthews, a former graduate student assistant, in partnership with the “Open Scholarship Commons,” a virtual (for now) space supporting the use of digital tools to create and share research openly.

Burns, a Husky football fan, said the Music Library gets a lot of inquiries about the fight song, and he grew curious about it as well. The song was written in late 1915 by Lester J. Wilson, responding to a contest held by the UW Daily.

“It starts in a unique minor key and it is super difficult to sing. It generates a lot of interest,” Burns said, “especially around football season. So Catherine and I decided to connect these stories and items with photographs from the university archives, sheet music and recordings.”

The result is an entertaining multimedia presentation of history, video and music of “Bow Down to Washington” — including the 1915 lyrics and a 2018 rewrite that updates “Mighty are the men who wear the Purple and the Gold,” to “mighty are the ones.” An earlier lyrical variation from 1917, also featured, called “Bow Down to Uncle Sam,” was used to recruit troops during World War One.

Popular videos are featured as well, including a 2011 Boeing Credit Union video of famous UW alumni crooning the tune, as well as BECU’s more recent “Bow Wow Down to Washington” commercial — where the fight song goes to the Dawgs.

The UW Music Library’s Special Collections area already had a lot of information about and recordings of the famous fight song that Burns and Matthews called upon. The sheet music to “Bow Down” is part of the Music Library’s Pacific Northwest Sheet Music Collection of about 1,000 songs from the first half of the 20th century.

The earliest recording of “Bow Down,” Burns said, was a 1928 big band foxtrot by Vic Meyers and the Hotel Butler Orchestra. Meyers later served as Washington state’s lieutenant governor for 20 years.

“The coolest one, I think, is the 1964 one from Jerden Records,” Burns said. “It is a jazzy vibraphone combo and features a young jazz fusion innovator Larry Coryell on guitar.

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To learn more, contact Burns at dburns5@uw.edu; or Erin Conor, head of music, art and drama libraries, at econor@uw.edu. Contact the Open Scholarship Commons to learn more about creating digital exhibits such as this for classes or research, contact the Open Scholarship Commons.