UVa’s second Jewish professor and the “Virginia Yell Song”

Today’s Virginia Glee Club history update is about one of the classic University of Virginia football songs, and the man who wrote it–the University’s second Jewish professor.

Linwood Lehman wasn’t a Glee Club member–he was an undergraduate during a period where the Glee Club was mostly dormant, graduating in 1915 (the club had just revived that year after several less fruitful seasons). But he was a triple Hoo, taking a bachelors, masters, and doctorate at the University, and then going on to teach Latin there until his untimely death in 1953.

What is perhaps more surprising is that when he became a professor in 1920, he was only the University’s second Jewish professor. It turns out that Virginia, despite Jefferson’s Statute of Religious Freedom, was not particularly welcoming for Jews. The University’s first Jewish professor, J.J. Sylvester, was hired in 1841 but lasted less than a full term; the faculty failed to discipline a rowdy student who challenged him, and he was subsequently attacked by the student’s supporters. At the time of his hiring, the Richmond-based Presbyterian newspaper The Watchman of the South protested, claiming he had been hired over 40 other qualified candidates and stating “We have often said that as infidelity became ashamed of its own colors, it would seek to form alliances with Papism, Unitarianism, Judaism, and other errors subversive of Christianity.”

By the time Lehman came along, things had gotten a bit better. He stayed as a professor for 33 years, and had a significant impact, teaching Glee Club member and future Music Department head Ernest Mead among others. Mead remembered him as “somewhat offbeat with chic tastes, great humor and fine sensibilities.”

Lehman’s humor is present in the “Virginia Yell Song,” written when he was an undergraduate. The only UVa football song with a parenthetical interjection, it sounds in places like a conversation between slightly jaded onlookers who will only cheer a winning team:

Down the field our team is dashing–fight, Virginia, fight!
Carolina’ll get a smashing right
We are out for blood today so yell, boys, yell!
(–Will we get it? –I should say so!) Yell like hell!

But the overall song, with its “Let’s give a yell, boys, and we’ll yell Wa-hoo-wah/and raise our voices loud and roar,” has proved a worthy addition to the UVa football song repertoire. It was recorded on the Glee Club’s first album in 1951, and has made an appearance on the most recent one as well.

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