Great question posed by fellow blogger Tim of Varsity Blue, who commented on my eBay Watch post on the 1904 sheet music of Elbel’s The Victors.

Tim Says:
I’ve heard that “The Victors” was in fact a tune that was ripped off (at least in part) by Elbel. As resident historian of the Michigan blogosphere, do you have any insight on the matter?

Tough question to answer on a Michigan blog by an alumnus and Victors Club member who named his blog “MVictors” and considered naming his son Victor (went with Fielding). But it’s a good question.

Yes, some maintain that the tune to the The Victors was more than inspired by a song published earlier in 1898 titled ‘The Spirit of Liberty‘ by a gent named George Rosey. Based on what I’ve read [if you think sports bloggers lean nerd, take a stroll on a classical music message board] there is a range of takes on this. They vary from there’s really nothing borrowed from the Rosey tune, it’s just sour grapes or anti-Michigan people taking shots at what many consider the greatest fight song ever composed. Besides, this school of thought goes, it’s not like these songs were on everyone’s iPod so did Elbel even have access to it?

Others say that portions of the tune sound similar but that’s more of a function of the music of the time and it’s possible they had a common inspiration. And finally you’ve got your folks that can compare the tunes and argue portions are a flat-out match and must be stolen from Rosey. The shame.

As the resident historian of the M nerdosphere I’ll offer up Winston Churchill who famously declared “History is written by The Victors”. [I couldn’t wait to get that out]. Without digging too deep into this, I can tell you that the best source of info on the history of the song, Elbel and of this football team is of course the University of Michigan itself, and the U doesn’t take kindly to alternate and unfavorable versions of Michigan history. Take for example the debate over the 1948 national championship between Michigan and Notre Dame. You won’t find a whole lot of depth on the argument anywhere or at the Bentley as they basically state that Michigan is the champion that year with at best an asterisk or something.

Likewise, the Michigan websites and alumni magazines have some nice stories on Elbel and The Victors and all this, but not a whole lot of speculation that it was swiped. I did read that this issue was discussed in 2007 within “M Fanfare” a Michigan band alumni newsletter by M Man and band director Joe Dobos, but I couldn’t find a copy out there. Would love to read it. A reader states that Dobos presented an argument that was “sympathetic to Elbel and totally unsympathetic to George Rosey”. I like this Dobos.

So Tim, at least for now there’s still an Easter Bunny.

UPDATE 3/12: Check out a post today from The Hoover Street Rag (the resident Michigan blog expert on the marching band) for more on this. HSR even posted audio of the ‘other’ evil song and I’ve spliced it down to the audio snippet that is in question:

Ice, Ice Baby – uh, there’s a distinct difference there, right? Right? I need an audiophile to break down all the differences. The problem is that I starting raising my arm and yelling ‘Hail’ right in the middle of that track (as I’m programmed to do) and that’s not a good sign.

Now that I’m done searching for new domain names for this blog, I did take solace in HSR’s take on the whole situation:

So, yes, most of the melody of the chorus of The Victors is the same as the Spirit of Liberty march. Whether this constitutes deliberate plagiarism is largely irrelevant and debatable, both on the grounds that they were friends, and that this happened before the 1909 Copyright Act was passed.


  1. perhaps this is the bombshell scandal Carty is slaving over.

  2. I mean, the star spangled banner is ripped off from an English drinking song called the anacretonic song. All music comes from somewhere/someone else, just look at John Williams soundtracks. In the end, to The Victors go the spoils. It’s not like anyone is calling the national anthem the anacretonic song.

  3. The “original Mardi Gras” was in Mobile, Alabama. The winged helmet came from Princeton.

    …but honestly, who cares?

  4. Yeah.. re: who cares? No one is leaping off Burton Tower over this, but based on the traffic on this post people certainly care

  5. I actually work in music licensing/copyright/royalties in a MAJOR music company in NYC. In order to determine whether or not this work was plagiarized, there would have to be proof that Elbel had access to the Spirit of Liberty March.

    Still, I weep.

  6. CC – Perhaps us meddling kids need to stop asking questions about fight songs – good gracious

  7. Yeah, perhaps we’re all too obsessive about this.

    But nevertheless, to know a good chunk of the tune which wakes me up each morning on my alarm clock and is also my ring tone is most likely plagiarized is depressing :(

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  15. Excellent analysis here, with comments from band members new and old, see the comments, strongly suggesting Rosey deserves credit as co-author