Mississippi College Alma Mater

Fairest of all is our dear Mississippi,
Rising in state as the crest of a hill;
Staunch as a rock is our dear Alma Mater,
‘Round her so noble our hopes ever live.

When, in the future, our hearts may be yearning
For the bright scenes of our dear college youth,
Back to thy portals our memories turning,
Clear gleams thy beacon of virtue and truth.

M. C. we hail thee, our dear Mississippi,
Queen of our hearts, no foe shall alarm;
Faithful and loyal, thy children shall ever
Cherish thy mem’ry, acknowledge thy charm.

George H. Mackie, 1927

About the Alma Mater

At most colleges in the first quarter of the twentieth century increasing intercollegiate competition in athletics, debate, music and other areas led to increasing enthusiasm in school spirit. The Mississippi College teams did well in competition, and in 1920 the student body proudly adopted the name “Choctaws” to exemplify the spirit of its teams and students. In another expression of school spirit, institutions were adopting alma maters, if they did not have one already.

Alma Mater (Latin for “fostering mother”) was a respectful and affectionate term for one’s college or university. By the 1920’s, however, it had become increasingly common for each school or student body to have a school song to express the gratitude and esteem that students and graduates felt toward their institution, and the term alma mater applied to the song as well as the school. Concerned that so many comparable institutions had appropriate school songs and Mississippi College had none, students and faculty encouraged composers to submit compositions for consideration. One written by Prof. A. J. Aven was published in the 1923 college annual, and two others, by other composers, were published in 1924 and 1925, but the response was not enthusiastic, and there was no such offering in the spring of 1926, in spite of a determined effort to secure a winner.

Then came the proud celebrations of the centennial year of 1926–27, with repeated recognition of a distinguished past and, with the completion of three new buildings at once pointing toward a promising future, the calls for an appropriate alma mater increased. Prof. George H. Mackie, director of the band and orchestra, and an accomplished composer, decided to tackle the task. He worked long and hard as he wrote the words and composed the music. The band played and the glee club sang, from manuscript copies, as he revised and polished the composition.

On Tuesday night, October 18,1927 the proposed alma mater was sung before the student body, and on Wednesday morning it was played and sung again in chapel before the students and faculty. It was adopted unanimously, with the provision that, if a competing composition were submitted within the next two weeks, it would be considered. None was offered. There seemed to be general agreement with the Collegian’s observation that the entire student body was “completely captivated by the beautiful music and the still more beautiful words.” The Collegian also observed that “It seems rather strange that a college like Mississippi College could run as long as it has and not have a school song. However, a song such as has been adopted is worth waiting a long time for.” The student body gave a standing ovation to Mr. Mackie for his work.

An alumnus, Mr. T. J. Parker, recalled that later Mr. Mackie decided that the fourth line of the first stanza would be better if it were changed from “Round her so noble our hopes ever live” to “Round her, so noble, our hopes to fulfill.” The change was not made, however, and the Alma Mater continues today precisely as it was adopted on October 19, 1927.

About George Mackie

George Hazelrigg Mackie was born in Kentucky in 1882. We have little information about his early life, except that his career developed in Winchester, Kentucky. A newspaper article (undated) says, “Mr. Mackie is one of the best known musicians in the central part of Kentucky, and has been for a number of years prominently connected with musical affairs in Winchester.” Another article reports a state-wide lodge meeting, with a special train to take people from Winchester, “and George H. Mackie, with his crack band, will go along to enliven the occasion.”

From Kentucky Mr. Mackie came to Hinds County Agricultural High School in Raymond sometime after its establishment in 1917. In 1922–23 the A.H.S. began offering first-year college courses, and G. H. Mackie was in charge of orchestra and chorus work. Hinds became a full Junior College in 1926 and earned regional accreditation in 1928. He became director of the band at Mississippi College in 1925, but in the late 1920’s he was identified as “director of music and teacher of band and orchestra at both Mississippi College and Hinds Jr. College.”

When Mr. Mackie came to Mississippi College as Director of the Band and Orchestra in 1925, he inherited a band that had developed commendably from 1922 to 1925 under the direction of Walter E. Kalinowski. The foundation was in place for a future of excellence for the band and its new leader. Mackie did not have a bachelor’s degree, but in 1924 he earned a Diploma as Bandmaster at the Frederick Neil Innes College of Band Music in Denver. He had extensive experience conducting bands and orchestras, large and small, especially student bands. He was highly acclaimed as a violin soloist, and he also played solos on the trumpet and cornet. He also served as church choir director, including several years at the Baptist Church in Clinton.

In addition to numerous local band concerts in Clinton, Jackson, Raymond, Utica and other nearby places, and to several half?hour radio programs with the band, he also initiated an annual band tour to north or south Mississippi, giving as many performances as possible. The response was always enthusiastic, with frequent declarations that this was one of the best bands in the South. As the years passed, he added more variety to his programs. One reviewer praised the superior performance of the classical music portion of the program, but he also approved of the “rough and tumble” section of popular music, including vaudeville acts and humorous skits. In the 1930s he added to the variety with a 12-piece jazz orchestra called “The Revelers”. With all the emphasis on classical music, there is at least one account of a concert consisting entirely of music by outstanding American composers. Frequently he ended with the Mississippi College alma mater, and one printed program includes the observation, “It being our custom to play at least one sacred number on all our programs.” Also, the band’s performances at graduation ordinarily included an “annual sacred concert” on Sunday evening.

We do not know just when he ceased to divide his time between Mississippi College and Hinds, but it probably was about 1930. And he directed numerous other bands, either on some kind of regular basis, or simply as guest conductor for a concert. Those mentioned include Utica, Byram, Crystal Springs and the State Institute for the Blind.

Mr. Mackie was a leader in establishing and administering the annual state?wide band contest for high school bands. He was often either state chairman or one of the judges for the contests. The contest was usually held in Jackson, but at least one year it was in Clinton. He served repeatedly as president of the Mississippi Band and Orchestra Leaders’ Association and was mentioned as being the only Mississippi representative on a national committee of band and orchestra leaders.

His most noteworthy achievement, however, came through the designation of the Choctaw band as the band of the 155th Infantry Regiment, making it the official band of the National Guard of Mississippi. (This accomplishment was helped by the support of Chaplain Webb Brame, a trustee of Mississippi College.) Federal action confirmed this organization on October 2, 1930. After that, wherever the band performed it was identified as both the Mississippi College Band and the 155th Infantry Band. Most (but not all) of the band members were on the Guard payroll at $75–$150 annually, and this was a welcome boost in the poverty of the Great Depression. Also, the band received $10,000 in government equipment.

Each summer the band participated in a National Guard camp in Louisiana. At its first one, in August of 1931, this band was given an exceptionally high rating for its marching, music and formations. It was repeatedly cited as one of the best National Guard bands, and Gen. Hairston once proclaimed that the MC unit was one of the best musical units that the state Guard had ever had.

In December of 1940, a year before our entry into World War II, the Mississippi National Guard, including the MC band, was called into federal service. Mr. Mackie, who had been a Warrant Officer in charge if the state Guard unit, became a first lieutenant in command of the federalized band. After serving less than a year, however, he became seriously ill and, after an extended stay in the hospital, was given a medical discharge and returned to Clinton. He died on February 10, 1942, following a stroke the previous week

Mr. Mackie was a man of many talents. He was a superb musician and an inspiring leader of bands. Repeatedly he led bands to perform better than they thought they could, and his concerts won enthusiastic acclaim from audiences everywhere. He was a prolific composer and arranger of music, and his own compositions added to interest in his concerts. Not only was he a successful leader of bands, but he was also an influential leader of band directors and administrators at the state and national levels. He apparently set a precedent when his Mississippi College band, as a unit, was made the state National Guard band. A Guard publication said, “This was probably the first band to be organized with a college leader and the entire enlisted strength composed of college students.” And, as one more indication of the breadth of his interests, he had a farm at Raymond where he raised championship hogs that won many silver trophies. He was a winner in many fields!

But the accomplishment for which generations of Mississippi College people have been grateful to him since 1927 is the composition of the Alma Mater. For many, many years every entering freshman memorized the college song as a part of initiation, and many of them, as old grads, can still sing it from beginning to end by memory. Usages change, but the Alma Mater is still a part of many college ceremonies, a vital expression of love and esteem for Mississippi College. We cherish the song for what it means, and it is appropriate that we pause now and then to salute the memory of George H. Mackie, the Mississippi College musician who composed it for us.

Charles E. Martin
July 14, 2003