The President Visits MAC
A highlight of the band’s early history was the visit of President Theodore Roosevelt to MAC on the occasion of the college’s semi-centennial in 1907. The band escorted and played for the President during his stay in East Lansing. B.G. Edgerton was the leader during this parade.
The First Faculty Conductor
Also in 1907, chemistry professor A.J.Clark was appointed by college president and Jonathan L. Snyder as the band’s first faculty conductor. Under Clark’s baton, the band began playing for school functions, including athletic events (the football band was known as the “MAC Touch-down Band”), and expanded from 25 to 60 members.
The Aggie Band
In 1910, Sgt. Patrick J. Cross drilled the band for military functions. When the band accompanied the MAC football team to the Ohio State game of 1912, a Columbus newspaper reported, “Never has there been a band on Ohio Field that can compete with the Michigan Aggie.” Frederic L. Abel served as band director from 1916 to 1918, and A.J. Clark returned in 1918 – 1919.
In 1919, J.S. Taylor was appointed faculty director of bands, succeeding Clark. Taylor was a prolific composer of marches, many of which were very popular in the early part of this century. Taylor directed until 1922. A.J. Clark returned for the third and final time from 1922 – 1925, and Carl Kuhlman served as director from 1925 – 1927.
The MSU Fight Song
Michigan State’s first victory over the University of Michigan occurred October 18, 1913, when the “Aggies” beat Michigan 12-7. One of the MAC students in attendance was Francis Lankey of the Class of 1916 and an assistant yellmaster (cheerleader.) After the game the MAC students and fans paraded up and down the streets of Ann Arbor celebrating their victory by singing “The Victors”, Michigan’s Fight song. The following week MAC played and beat the University of Wisconsin, champions of the Big 9, by the identical score of 12-7. At that game he heard the Wisconsin fans sing their fight song, “On, Wisconsin.” As a matter of fact, the 1913 season was the first undefeated season for MSU; the next one would be in 1951 under Coach “Biggie” Munn.
As a yellmaster and student Lankey was bothered by the lack of a fight song for MAC. He was also an accomplished pianist as well as a composer. While at MAC, Lankey played primarily ragtime and he often played at dances and other events on and off campus. In the winter and spring of 1915 assisted by Arthur L. Sayles, an engineering senior who helped primarily with the words to the song, the original MAC fight song was composed by Lankey.
However, it would not be until the fall of 1919 when the Varsity Club was looking to raise money, that copies of the song, then in the possession of one of Lankey’s many girlfriends, were sold at 50 cents apiece at the homecoming pep assembly. In 30 minutes they sold all 770 copies. J.S. Taylor, the new director of the Military Band, heard the song and thought it should be orchestrated for the band. That was done and the following year the new MSU fight song was played at football games and other sporting events. Ironically, Francis I. Lankey would never know that his song would become the MSU Fight Song, as he perished in a plane crash on May 1, 1919 in St. Petersbug, Florida.
The Spartans are Born
The college’s new nickname was chosen in 1926, shortly after the name of the school was changed to Michigan State College. The “block-S” was adopted in that year as the athletic award letter, and it was felt that a new nickname was needed for MSC to reflect the new goals and aims of the college. A campus-wide contest was held, and “Michigan Staters” was picked as the winner among the entries.
However, sportswriter George Alderton of the Lansing State Journal disliked that nickname, and, on his own, selected another of the entries: Michigan State SPARTANS. He put the nickname into print in the paper on April 2, 1926–and the students and public loved it. So the Michigan State Spartans were born.
That was the nickname for the students of MAC and also for the Michigan Agricultural College athletic team, reflecting the school’s still-agriculturally-based curriculum. But the small college was growing, and changes were occurring in the band as well as in the school.