Milwaukee Record is proud to present Public Domain. The monthly video series features Milwaukee musicians setting up at Colectivo Coffee to adapt some of the world’s best-known songs in ways they’ve never been heard before. Watch the entire series here.
Famed composer and conductor John Phillip Sousa considered “On, Wisconsin!” to be “the finest of college marching songs.” He wasn’t lying! Variations of the century-old Badgers fight song have been performed by literally thousands of marching bands throughout the country, and it has become a melody synonymous with both football and life in Wisconsin. While generations know and love the song, few are aware that the music for “On, Wisconsin!” came dangerously close to being used for Minnesota’s state song.
Back in 1909, composer William T. Purdy planned to enter a ditty he called “Minnesota, Minnesota” into a contest to become the University Of Minnesota’s fight song. Fortunately, Carl Beck got to him first. The former Wisconsin student convinced Purdy to give it to UW instead. Beck then wrote the song’s football-themed lyrics and changed the name to its present “On, Wisconsin!” title, which was a battle cry General MacArthur used in the Civil War.
In 1913, the lyrics were re-written by Charles D. Rosa and J.S. Hubbard to reflect Wisconsin life off the gridiron. It was instantly popular and accepted as the unofficial state song until it was finally given the actual designation in 1959. It’s only natural for a song that’s had so many names and variations to be covered by Brett Newski.
Using Beck’s original 1909 lyrics, Newski—a fellow University Of Wisconsin alumnus—adapted the Badgers fight song like a one-man marching band. With the aid of some pedal-powered percussion, vocal effects, and a kazoo, the nomadic Milwaukee troubadour composed a tribute to his home state that will make any Wisconsinite proud.
The video was shot, directed, and edited by Cheston Van Huss. Travis Whitty produced the opening sequence. Public Domain is sponsored by Colectivo Coffee Roasters, Milwaukee Pride, and Transfer Pizzeria Café.