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'You feel a sense of unity': The history of UNC's alma mater 'Hark the Sound'

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Lyrics from ‘Hark the Sound’ in North Carolina Postcard Collection (P052), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.

LISTEN: Students perform UNC's alma mater

The UNC Clef Hangers sing "Hark the Sound"

Every UNC sports game ends with the same familiar tune: “Hark the Sound of Tar Heel voices, ringing clear and true."

As the words echo across the field, stadium or court, Tar Heels past and present wrap their arms around each other, swaying and stomping their feet.

UNC senior Blaise Shiver, who is among Carolina Fever’s top 200 fans, said the University’s alma mater, “Hark the Sound," is one way for students, alumni and fans to express gratitude.

“The alma mater in general just gives a sense of pride and appreciation for our school,” he said. “It's just a way to say thank you to what the school has done for us." 

“Hark the Sound” dates back to 1897, when UNC student and Glee Club member William Starr Myers wrote UNC-specific lyrics to the 1857 tune “Annie Lisle” by H.S. Thompson. UNC's Glee Club first performed the song at the University’s 1897 graduation ceremony.

The “Annie Lisle” tune is not unique to UNC. Director of University Bands Jeffrey Fuchs said it is used by other universities, including the University of Alabama and the University of Georgia. He said even his high school used the “Annie Lisle” tune as its alma mater.

University archivist Nicholas Graham said the song was next performed at University Day in 1903. In the following years, it became a graduation tradition and an integral part of official University events.

However, the song evolved over the years. Lyrically, there have been two changes.

Graham said the first line of the song was originally performed as “Hark the sound of loyal voices,” in 1897. But when the song was reintroduced in the early 1900s, the first line had changed to “Hark the sound of Tar Heel voices.”

In 2006, UNC alumnus F. Marion Redd advocated for a lyrical change to include women. The first line of the second verse used to be, “‘Neath the oaks thy sons true hearted,” omitting an acknowledgement of women’s presence at the university. 

Graham said the original lyrics reflect that the song was written at a time when women were only just beginning to be admitted to UNC. Women began to enroll at UNC in 1877, but only for summer sessions. Sallie Walker Stockard was the first woman to receive a degree from UNC in 1898.

After Redd created a petition to change the lyrics in 2006, the UNC General Alumni Association changed the line to “‘Neath the oaks thy sons and daughters.”

Additionally, the fight song “Tar Heels Born and Tar Heels Bred,” though not included in Starr Myers’ original song, became a part of the alma mater over the years. It was first sung at a baseball game in 1903.

“I think it's a nice combination, the kind of slow, lyrical alma mater followed by the rowdier school cheer,” Graham said.

“Tar Heels Born and Tar Heels Bred,” does not have roots in Chapel Hill either. Fuchs said he first knew of the fight song as a tradition at Brown University, but UNC adopted the chant and changed the lyrics.

The practice of adopting other universities’ songs was common before modern technology, he said. People would hear a tune at a different institution, bring it back with them and change the lyrics to make it their own.

“There was a lot of borrowed, shared music in those days that was made possible by the lack of technology and travel,” Fuchs said.

Even with a common school tune, Shiver said Tar Heels still stand proud for “Hark the Sound.”

He said his favorite memory with the song happened after the most recent UNC men's basketball win over rival Duke. Shiver said he paused in the Dean E. Smith Center to hear the alma mater and honor the University before running to Franklin Street.

“Putting your arms around other students that maybe you don't even know, you feel a sense of unity, because you're all Tar Heels and you’re all proud of that, win or lose,” he said.

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