Every great university has a hymn, an ode that wraps up the experience of the
place into song and words. The Clemson Alma Mater fits that description and
then some. For students, alumni, and fans, the strains of our song bring forth
feelings of nostalgia, pride, and reverence. Trying to understand the history of
our particular hymn is much like peeling away layers of an onion. The story seems
to go deeper the more one examines it. Perhaps for the first time the full history
can be told.
The story begins in May of 1918, when a group of about 165 Clemson College
cadets were gathered with thousands of others at an R.O.T.C. camp in Plattsburg,
N.Y. During a pass-in-review, all the colleges and university cadets were asked to
sing their school song or do a stunt of some sort. The two groups ahead of Clemson,
Amherst, and Brown, sang their songs with gusto, while the Clemson cadets squirmed
in embarrassment. Clemson had no such song! One Clemson cadet in attendance that
day was A.C. Corcoran of Charleston, a textile engineering major. He decided to remedy
the situation, and by 1919 he had penned words to fit the melody of the Cornell
University Alma Mater:
Where the Blue Ridge yawns its greatness
Where the Tigers play,
Here the sons of dear old Clemson
Reign supreme alway.
Dear old Clemson we will triumph
And with all our might,
That the Tiger's roar may echo
O'er the mountain height!
These words, plus three additional verses, were printed in The Tiger and officially
accepted by the university. The first performance of Clemson's new alma mater was by
the glee club on Monday, February 17, 1919 during chapel services (see "Embarrassed
Cadet Wrote Alma Mater," Anderson Independent, Feb. 7, 1960 and The Tiger, Feb. 18,
Fast forward to 1947. After almost 30 years of borrowing another university's tune, a
group finally decided that Clemson should create its own. The Tiger Brotherhood society
(formed in 1928 and still active today) sponsored a contest for a new tune. On May 5, 1947,
an article in The Tiger announced the winner of the contest as Robert E. Farmer of Anderson,
an architecture student and member of the glee club. Since Mr. Farmer could not read or
write music, he sung the melody to a musician friend who wrote it down. Hugh McGarity, the
director of Clemson's glee club and band, was commissioned to write an arrangement. At
this point, a sort of mystery began that would confound attempts to get at the truth for years
A short article in the September 21, 1950 issue of The Tiger stated that:
New music composed last year by Professor H.H. McGarity is now the
official music for the Clemson Alma Mater, according to a recent announcement. A petition
for the change circulated by Tiger Brotherhood last spring was signed by a majority of the
student body. Upon the recommendation of Dr. Poole, the new music was presented to the
alumni association at its annual meeting June 3. The group voted its approval and Dr. Poole
proclaimed it the official Alma Mater at graduation exercises on June 4, at which it was
sung officially for the first time.
Interesting is that there was no mention of the contest which occurred just three years
prior, and the lack of credit to contest winner Robert E. Farmer.
Nineteen years later, in a letter to Dr. John H. Butler (then Director of Bands) dated
March 28, 1969, Walter T. Cox (then vice president for student affairs) stated:
Dean Hurst has advised me that the Faculty Senate, at their meeting
on March 11, 1969, passed a Resolution recognizing the services of Dr. Hugh H.
McGarity, now retired after twenty-one years as a member of the faculty of Clemson
The Resolution expressed the appreciation of the Senate and resolved that Dr.
McGarity be given credit, when appropriate, as the composer of the music of the
Clemson Alma Mater. The Resolution was passed unanimously. It is the interpretation
of Dean Hurst and Dr. Eugene Park, President of the Faculty Senate, that it would be
appropriate to give the name of the composer of the music whenever the words of the
Alma Mater is printed in programs of athletic events and other University affairs.
I fully support the action of the Senate and hope that this can be appropriately
carried out (from Clemson Band archives).
In the early 1970's James Copenhaver (now director of bands at the University
of South Carolina) came to Clemson as the interim director of bands while Clemson
band director Bruce Cook was on a leave of absence. Copenhaver commissioned his
former college band director, Robert Hawkins of Morehead State University, to write
a new band arrangement of the Clemson Alma Mater. It is that arrangement that is
played by Tiger Band to this day.
To confound things even further, Joe Sherman in his 1976 book Clemson Tigers:
A History of Clemson Football states that "In the early '50's Dr. John Butler,
now head of the University music department, composed new music for the Clemson
Alma Mater that was officially adopted." Dr. Butler, in a letter to Dr. Richard
Goodstein, current chair of the department of performing arts dated October 27, 2001,
states "...Joe Sherman said in a book that I had written it, but I certainly never
claimed that – it had been used for a dozen years before I even came to Clemson
in 1960!" In fact, Dr. Butler had arranged the choral parts so that the choir could
sing parts that would fit the 1972 band arrangement (Clemson Bands archives).
On March 20, 1989, Robert E. Farmer, then an architect in Greenville, wrote a letter
to Clemson World News in which he recounted the Tiger Brotherhood contest. After
being named the winner, he said that "For about a month, I basked in the warm
glow of local fame ... About a year after the contest, the present alma mater tune emerged.
It only used the middle section of my tune and that was altered and re-harmonized. The
rest, I believe, was by Hugh McGarity ... Thank you for letting me get this off my chest after
forty-two years of wondering." The letter from Farmer was passed on to Walter
Cox, by then President Emeritus of Clemson, for investigation. It was decided to invite
Robert Farmer to campus for a meeting, after which Mr. Farmer was asked to re-construct
his winning alma mater tune. Farmer's music and the tune which we now know as the
Clemson Alma Mater by McGarity were taken to a professional music teacher (Mrs.
Sybil McHugh) for her opinion. She observed that the chorus was similar ("Dear
old Clemson, we will triumph..."), that the value of the notes was the same, but
that the two versions were in different keys. I would add from my own observations as a
composer and arranger that the melody of the two choruses is identical. Robert Farmer's
tune is beautiful, but it has inherent flaws in melody and harmony. This is what Hugh
McGarity must have realized, and set out to fix. The part of the mystery that may never be
solved is why McGarity altered the tune of the verse so drastically, and why Mr. Farmer
was not given proper credit (Clemson Bands archives).
In the outcome of the 1989 investigation headed by Walter Cox it was deemed that
all future copies of the Clemson Alma Mater should bear the following heading:
Music by: Robert E. Farmer '49 and Hugh H. McGarity
Adopted: June 4, 1950
Words by: A.C. Corcoran '19
Adopted: January, 1919
Arranged by: John H. Butler
The one omission of this committee's work is that the arranger of the Tiger Band
version should be listed as Robert Hawkins, and that John Butler's name should
appear only on the choral version sung with the band.
In light of the 2003 season's spotlight on the Clemson Alma Mater, I thought it
appropriate to make a slight alteration to the Tiger Band arrangement by Hawkins.
When he wrote it, he started on the first word of the tune. Traditionally hymns will
have an introduction so that singers can find their pitch. Since the Hawkins
arrangement lacked this, the band has played the last four measures of the piece
as an introduction. By going back to the original recording circa 1950 by the glee club
and Clemson College Band conducted by Hugh McGarity, I found that there is indeed
a unique introduction to the original. It is this introduction that was re-introduced
during the pre-game performance by Tiger Band on August 30, 2003 for the Clemson
vs. Georgia football game.
Whatever the remaining mysteries, we can all agree that the Clemson Alma Mater
that emerged on June 4, 1950 is certainly one of the great college hymns. Robert E.
Farmer said it best in his 1989 letter to the Clemson World News:
An Alma Mater tune, by tradition, should be a rather solemn, stately affair that
commands quiet attention and a certain reverence. The cheers should cease, the
hats come off, and the hand placed over the heart so that for one moment, memories
and sentiments are expressed.
As Clemson fans we can thank the contributions to all these men who gave
Clemson University one of its great traditions.
*Special thanks to Barrett Taylor ('02), whose mutual interest
in research and the history of Tiger Band led to this article.