The composer of the iconic “The Red and Blue” was commemorated during Alumni Weekend.


Shortly before the Alumni Weekend Parade of Classes began, the Penn Band gathered by the LOVE sculpture to play University staples like “Drink a Highball” and “The Red and Blue.”

They also played another song that the alumni mingling on Locust Walk wouldn’t have recognized; according to assistant band director Kushol Gupta C’97 Gr’03, it likely hadn’t been played in roughly a century.

The song that had been lost to time, “Houston Club March,” was recently rediscovered by the great-granddaughter of William J. Goeckel C1895 L1896, a founding member of the Penn Band who composed that march and, more famously, “The Red and Blue.”

In what Gupta called “an extraordinary stroke of dumb luck,” Goeckel’s great-granddaughter, an orchestra director named Laura Mulligan Thomas, found Goeckel’s original sheet music while cleaning out her parents’ apartment. She was subsequently put in touch with Gupta by her Charlottesville, Virginia, neighbors and Penn Band alums Lori Wecker Balaban C’86 and David Balaban C’86. Since then, Thomas has worked with Penn to donate the family’s collection—including photos, songbooks, and a copy of the original handwritten “The Red and Blue”—which was put on display at Sweeten Alumni House.

“He was a bit of a renaissance man,” said Mulligan Thomas, one of about a dozen of Goeckel’s descendants (many of them musicians) who came to Penn during Alumni Weekend to enjoy the display and the Penn Band’s performance.

In addition to joining other students to establish what is now the Penn Band more than 125 years ago [“And the Band Played On,” Jan|Feb 2023], Goeckel helped form the cheerleading team and was a leader in the Penn Glee Club (for whom he wrote the popular song “Memories”). He was also a standout first baseman on the Penn baseball team who went on to play professionally for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1899. He then practiced law in his native Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, until dying of pneumonia in 1922 at the age of 51.

“He had remarkable depth,” Gupta said. “He was a real leader in the student body, a real cornerstone. In that regard, he shared a lot of the same ethos in what you see in the student body now. It’s cool to see that connection.”

Gupta said he was impressed by the complexity of “Houston Club March,” even if it was somewhat difficult for the students to learn. As for “The Red and Blue,” whose music Goeckel composed in 1896 (Harry Westervelt M1898 penned the lyrics a year later), Gupta noted that “it actually wasn’t the University’s alma mater for the longest time” but became the school’s unofficial anthem and an iconic part of Penn lore when “folks at a packed Franklin Field took their hats off and waved them left and right.” The arm waving has continued at games and other campus events to this day, ensuring Goeckel’s legacy at his alma mater.

“That’s a special part of Penn,” Gupta said, “that we have all this history.” —DZ

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