Marching band

The University marching band poses for a photo at a Kansas-Missouri football game.

It echoes throughout the cathedral that is Allen Fieldhouse and reverberates around Memorial Stadium as band members perform on the turf of Kivisto Field. It unites Jayhawks fans everywhere and symbolizes the traditional roots on which the program was built.

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The Kansas band plays prior to the start of the game against Baylor at the Sprint Center on March 11, 2016. The Jayhawks defeated the Bears 70-66.

The song “I’m a Jayhawk” has been the trademark of the University of Kansas since 1912, when student George "Dumpy" Bowles created one of the most familiar tunes in Lawrence.

Although rather unpopular among students until 1920, the song hit its stride in 1926 when the University’s glee club made it well known across the nation, according to the Songs of Old KU. 

But as fans tap their feet or hum the song at sporting events, graduation or in a commercial advertisement, how many know about or can actually recite the lyrics that Bowles originally wrote more than 100 years ago?

While some students and alumni can yell out the words each time, for many this could be the first time you’ve heard about these lyrics. Starting with the first line, the lyrics tend to poke fun at conference rivals, some of which have since departed.

It begins with “Talk about the Sooners, the Cowboys and the Buffs. Talk about the Tiger and his tail.” Then continues to, “Talk about the Wildcat, and those Cornhuskin' boys, but I'm the bird to make 'em weep and wail.”

This original version of the song was created before the completion of the league and stood untouched for 46 years until the lyrics were adapted during 1958 to align with the addition of some rival schools into the Big Eight conference, according to the Traditions page on KU Athletics.

marching band 1990

The University marching band parades downtown in 1990.

There it remained for more than five decades. However, in 2010, the song would change once again.

That summer, Colorado and Nebraska had announced their departures from the Big 12, to the Pac-12 and Big 10, respectively. At the time, University Alumni pleaded with the Alumni Association to alter the song again, and their wish was granted.

Matt Schoenfeld, a Baylor graduate but Kansas fan, entered his updated version of the song in a contest he had come upon in a Sports Illustrated article. His lyrics were selected out of six options and changed the first verse and one line of the chorus, according to a news release from 2010 in the KU archives.

Since Bowles only named six schools in his original piece, the new edition added teams including Baylor, Iowa State, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech to the mix. 

Texas and Texas Tech broke into the lyrics after being left out in Bowles’ original version. The line “Rope some 'Horns and listen to the Red Raiders wail,” was stuck in right before the final words of the song.

The Buffs were replaced with the Bears in the first line and the Cyclones replaced the Cornhuskers.

In the chorus section however, the first half of the lines stayed exactly how Bowles had left them: ”Cause I'm a Jay, Jay, Jay, Jay Jayhawk, up at Lawrence on the Kaw,'cause I'm a Jay, Jay, Jay, Jay Jayhawk, With a sis-boom, hip hoorah. Got a bill that's big enough to twist the Tiger's tail.”

Ironically, the constant tinkering may not yet be finished. The following year saw Texas A&M and Missouri leave for the SEC, causing an issue with the lyrics just one year after their implementation.

The additions of TCU and West Virginia the same year solved the Big 12 Conference's membership issue, but the song itself has yet to be modified nine years later.

It may not sound in tune or make too much sense in this day in age, but the next time the band blares “I’m a Jayhawk” at a sporting event, don’t just clap along, sing it!

Here are the full lyrics of the most recent version:

By Matt Schoenfeld (2010)

Talk about the Sooners, Cowboys and the Bears,

Aggies and the Tiger and his tail.

Talk about the Wildcats, and the Cyclone boys,

But I’m the bird to make ‘em weep and wail.

Chorus:

’Cause I’m a Jay, Jay, Jay, Jay, Jayhawk,

Up at Lawrence on the Kaw

’Cause I’m a Jay, Jay, Jay, Jay, Jayhawk,

With a sis-boom, hip hoorah,

Got a bill that’s big enough

To twist a Tiger’s tail,

Rope some ‘Horns and listen

To the Red Raiders wail

’Cause I’m a Jay, Jay, Jay, Jay, Jayhawk,

Riding on a Kansas gale.