The Eyes of Texas, by Lewis Johnson & John Sinclair
Today I am going to talk about a song that started as an internal joke between students... and ended up turning into the anthem of one of the most prestigious teaching institutions in the world.
All American universities can be identified easily by their colors, their mascots, their "war cry", the signs that they use or the songs that they sing in sport events.
The University of Texas at Austin (UT) is not an exception, and it is easy to identify their students and supporters by their burnt orange shirts (normally dsigned with a drawing of the mascot: a longhorn), their "Hook'em Horns!" war cry while they make the sign of the same name (extensing the pinkie and pointing fingers in a sign that could be misinterpreted in Spain and other latin countries). And of course, also by the song that they sing before, during, and after each game: The Eyes of Texas.
It started as the desire of one student (Lewis Johnson) to create something in general (and an anthem in particular) for the University that would prevail as his legacy even after he graduated. In order to achieve that, he convinced John Sinclair (a student known for his good poetry skills) to write the lyrics.
In 1902 they did their first attempt with The Jolly Students. The song was well received but they realized that it didn't hold the spirit of the university. The following year, while Johnson was at the university post office, Sinclair arrived, grinned, and passed him a note. Lewis read it and instantly knew that he had found what he had been searching for so long.
The poem was quite simple, a parody of some words that the university president William Prather liked to say to motivate the students: "the eyes of Texas are upon you". And it was adapted to the popular (for the time) melody of I've Been Working on the Railroad.
Without wasting time, they made slight changes into the lyrics until leaving it in something closer to what it is today The Eyes of Texas:
The Eyes of Texas are upon you,
All the livelong day.
The Eyes of Texas are upon you,
You cannot get away.
Do not think you can escape them
At night or early in the morn.
The Eyes of Texas are upon you
Til Gabriel blows his horn.
And they started rehearsing for a charity festival. Who was one of the guests of honor on this event? University president William Prather! A group of students (leaded by John Sinclair) took the stage, started performing but, before they could finish the song, the people attending the concert started laughing and clapping and asking for more!
The song became incredibly popular among the students... and also among non-students: president William Prather himself liked the song so much that, disregarding that it was a joke towards his figure, started using it in all the university events.
From them, it was a matter of time until The Eyes of Texas turned into the anthem of the University of Texas at Austin, and until the sentence The Eyes of Texas are upon you became another symbol of this academic institution.
And the popularity of the song crossed the unviersity borders: it has been versioned by many artist like Elvis Presley, Stevie Ray Vaughan or Roy Orbison, and it has been performed as part of the soundtrack of different movies, being nominated for the Best Original Song Academy Award (for the movie "The Álamo", although it didn't win).
Can you tell that I wrote the article while watching the football game between UT and Texas Tech? Hook'em Horns! :P
Article published on November 4, 2014.