Susan "Sue" Owen '94 December 23, 2020 3:08 PM updated: December 29, 2020 10:21 AM
In 1939, as the undefeated Texas Aggie football team rolled toward a national championship and America eyed the conflict in Europe, A&M students clamored for a jazz number written by one of their own that expressed a devil-may-care style: "I'd Rather Be A Texas Aggie."
With music and lyrics by cadet Jack Littlejohn '39, the song became a hit at Corps dances and was released as sheet music and on vinyl. As a national broadcast highlighting the song put it: "Hey, listen to that, America; that's your kind of music – swing music, but Aggie music, too!" (Listen on Facebook here.)
The lyrics expressed sentiments familiar to generations of Aggies: Being a good Ag matters more than outside perceptions. "I'd rather be out on the Corps trip, no dime to my name / Than have my picture painted in the Hall of Fame / Just rather be a plain ol' Aggie, no shirt or no tie / I'll always be an Aggie till the day that I die."
From the 1920s to the present day, student jazz/swing combos at A&M have played under the name Aggieland Orchestra. Early groups performed in the 1920s and ’30s; in the late 1930s, Littlejohn sang and his brother Tommy Littlejohn '39 directed the band. A popular version of the Aggieland Orchestra was directed by Bill Turner in the ’40s and '50s. The group faded in the 1960s, but in 1972, Aggie Band director Col. Joe T. Haney ’48 reorganized the Aggieland Orchestra that exists today – a combo of cadets that tours and plays historic jazz and swing tunes.
"I'd Rather Be A Texas Aggie" is still in the repertoire of today's student Aggieland Orchestra, and it still gets dancers on their feet.
From the Jan. 25, 1940, issue of The Battalion:
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