The University Glee Club announced last week it would temporarily retire the song “Rugby Road” in the wake of the Rolling Stone article published Nov. 19 alleging a brutal gang rape by several individuals at a party at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house in Sept. 2012.
In the article, author Sabrina Rubin Erdely periodically employed lyrics from the song to highlight the presence of a “rape culture” on Grounds. Erdely described “Rugby Road” as a “jolly fight song which celebrates the sexual triumphs of U.Va. fraternity men.”
Fourth-year College student Zachary Seid, president of the Glee Club, said the group would retire the song, “at least through the end of this semester, and potentially the next.”
Seid announced the decision in an email sent to the entire Glee Club Nov. 19. In the email, he said this action was necessary “to protect the Club and its endeavors from being sidetracked or waylaid by those who would object to our singing it.”
The first two verses of the song — which are the commonly known — span the subjects of heavy drinking, comradery and sexual encounters.
The first verse reads: “From Rugby Road to Vinegar Hill, we’re gonna get drunk tonight/ The faculty’s afraid of us; they know we’re in the right/ So fill your cups, your loving cups, as full as full can be/ For as long as love and liquor last we’ll drink to the U. of V.”
The second verse, meanwhile, reads: “All you girls from Mary Washington/ And R.M.W.C., never let a Cavalier an inch above your knee/ He’ll take you to his fraternity house and fill you full of beer/ And soon you’ll be the mother of a bastard Cavalier!”
According to University Historian Sandy Gilliam, the song comes from a long tradition of university fight songs and is not unique in content. Old editions of Corks and Curls, the University’s yearbook, are filled with drinking songs and stories.
Gilliam said he does not know where the song originated, but speculates it developed sometime after World War I, perhaps as a way for students to protest against restrictions during Prohibition.
Some say the song is based off the Georgia Tech marching song, but Gilliam said he believes the tune comes from an old drinking song called the “Bastard King of England.”
Gilliam, who graduated from the University in 1955, was only aware of the first two verses, and a chorus, which reads, “Oh, I think we need another drink. Hey!/ I think we need another drink. Hey!/ I think we need another drink for the glory of the U.V.A.!” In her article, Erdely said the song has 35 verses, some written by students through recent decades.
“We sang it all the time,” Gilliam said of his student days.
Gillam said the Rolling Stone article does not accurately portray the song’s intention or how it is perceived among the student body.
“Rolling Stone seems to equate the song with bad behavior — that’s just not true,” Gilliam said. “Every student group used to have songs.”
The Rolling Stone article said the song is still performed by The Virginia Gentlemen, the University’s oldest a cappella group. Third-year Engineering student Rohan Deshpande, president of The Virginia Gentlemen, said in the past, the group only sang “Rugby Road” on occasion. They have now struck the song from their repertoire completely.
“It’s not really our song,” Deshpande said.
“Rugby Road” is the title of the group’s 2010 album. A rendition of the song can be hear on the VG's 2003 50th Anniversary album, Gold.
“I was surprised it was so long,” Desphande said on the number of verses referenced in the Rolling Stone article. He said he spoke with some Virginia Gentlemen alumni who “were shocked.”
“[They] thought it was only two verses long,” he said.
Desphande said the song was originally performed by the Glee Club, which included The Virginia Gentlemen members until the 1980s.
“The Glee Club has only ever sung the first two verses,” Seid said. “The Rolling Stone article was the first time I’d ever heard of the others.”
The other verses mentioned in the article are more sexually explicit and mention some sororities by name.
Seid said Erdely contacted him in September to ask for the whole song, which she believed to be more than just the first two verses.
Seid said he is not sure when the Glee Club added the song to its repertoire.
“We have about as much institutional memory as any other CIO,” Seid said.
The Glee Club has sung the song for at least 12 years — as long as the choir’s current conductor has been with the University. The group did not pen the song’s lyrics.
“I believe that it’s up to everyone to determine what the song is about for themselves,” Seid said.
Seid said it can be seen as “a fun-spirited drinking song” which does not imply lack of consent, but noted the Glee Club has gone back and forth on whether they wanted to sing the song in a public setting even before the publication of the Rolling Stone article.
“We only [perform it] once a year, by popular request — at the Rotunda Sing,” he said.
Seid said there has been significant alumni outreach regarding ties to the song, and that many members — old and new — have said the song is not how they would like to promote the group.
“Most of them agree with me when they say we need to be sensitive with the presentation of the song and performance of it,” Seid said.
Correction: A previous version of this article said the song "Rugby Road" appeared in their 2010 album. It is instead the name of the 2010 album, but is not itself featured in the track list.