It is one of the first school songs students at Penn commit to memory, and one they probably will remember for the rest of their lives.
Although “The Red and Blue” is not Penn’s official alma mater—that would be “Hail, Pennsylvania!”—it is considered the University’s official theme song, and is performed at every important Penn event, from Convocation to Commencement. The music was composed by William John Goeckel, an 1896 graduate of Penn Law, during his days as a student. Goeckel was a leader of the Glee Club and an accomplished athlete. Considered one of Penn’s star baseball players, he played first base as a member of the varsity team in 1893, 1894 and 1895. The varsity team of 1894 ranks as one of the most successful in Penn’s history, with four members (including Goeckel) going on to become professional athletes.
Goeckel played for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1899, but gave it up after only one season to concentrate on practicing law in his hometown of Wilkes-Barre, Pa. He eventually became the organizer and attorney for the South Side Bank and Trust Company, as well as chairman of Wilkes-Barre’s Democratic City Committee. He maintained an interest in music, serving as president of the Concordia Singing Society.
Today, Goeckel is best remembered for writing the music for “The Red and Blue,” in partnership with his classmate and 1898 grad, Harry E. Westervelt, who penned the lyrics. Other songs that Goeckel wrote while at Penn, “Memories” and the “Houston Club March,” are not as widely remembered, but “The Red and Blue” lives on.
Goeckel died of pneumonia in 1922 at the age of 51. An obituary published at the time in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin praised his composition of “The Red and Blue,” calling the song “an anthem [that is] the rallying cry and focal point for all the hopes, aspirations and memories that together compose that indeterminate, but powerful factor called college spirit.”
For more information about this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives at www.archives.upenn.edu.
Originally published on April 7, 2011