"Hail to the Redskins" is the dormant fight song of the Washington Commanders, an American football team belonging to the National Football League (NFL), formerly known as the Washington Redskins. The song was performed after the team scored touchdowns from the 1938 season until 2019. The music was composed by the team band's leader, Barnee Breeskin, and the lyrics were written by Corinne Griffith, the wife of Washington founder and owner George Preston Marshall.[1]

As of February 2022, the franchise intends to continue to use the song once it develops revised lyrics befitting the new Commanders moniker.[2]


In 1937, Marshall moved the team from Boston to Washington. With this move and the introduction of his team to the nation's capital, Marshall commissioned a 110-member marching band to provide the new fans with the "pomp and circumstance" and "pageantry" of a public victory parade. Marshall stated that he wanted his team and their games to emulate the spectacle of the gladiators at the Colosseum. He also wanted to incorporate elements of the college football experience into the pro game. He outfitted the band with $25,000 worth of uniforms and instruments and asked the band leader, Barnee Breeskin, to compose a fight song worthy of such a team of gladiators and warriors.

The original lyrics were written to reflect the Native American warrior imagery of the team as the "Redskins". The lyrics were later reworked to be less offensive to contemporary sensibilities, although the Redskins name became increasingly criticized as a racial slur (explaining the eventual name change).

"Hail to the Redskins" is the second oldest fight song for a professional American football team; the oldest fight song is "Go! You Packers! Go!", composed in 1931 for the Green Bay Packers. During the 1938 season, Washington played their new fight song for fans in attendance at the games as they played the Philadelphia Eagles, the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Cleveland Rams, the New York Giants, the Detroit Lions, and the Chicago Bears football teams.

In 1974, Washington, D.C., singer Beryl Middleton recorded "Hail to the Redskins", backed up by members of the team's singers. Barnee Breeskin declared this the finest recording of his song.[3]

The most widely recognized recording, which as of 2015 was still in use at Washington home games, features the Redskin Show Orchestra and the team's singers. The music was arranged and conducted by the orchestra's longtime leader Sam "Sammy" Shreiber, the team's singers were directed by Don Lichty and William "Billy" Ball and it was recorded at JRB Sound Studios in Washington, D.C. Some 45 rpm copies were released with a gold label and incorrectly spelled "Shreiber" as "Streiber" on both the A and B sides.

Changes to lyrics, performance

The song's original first stanza ended with the line "Fight for old Dixie". The Redskins played south of the Mason-Dixon line, and as there were no established NFL teams in the region until the 1960s, Marshall aggressively marketed his franchise as "Team of the South".[4] He would recruit players from Southern schools,[5] feature Southern bands at halftime,[6] and sign contracts to feature the team on Southern radio networks and television networks.[7][8]

The early arrangements of the song also closed to the opening of the well-known southern folk song, "Dixie", played as a countermelody. In July 1965, a black Washington fan wrote to the owner of the team, describing the racial unrest that "Dixie" caused and asking for it to be stopped.[9] According to an article in The Washington Afro-American of October 23, 1965, "Dixie" was no longer played as a countermelody starting that year.[10]

Several other lines found in the original were also altered. The original version included lines referring to the practice of scalping and featuring non-standard grammar, in a stereotype of Native American speech:

Scalp ’em, swamp ‘um
We will take ‘um big score
Read ‘um, Weep ‘um,
Touchdown! — We want heap more [11]

Those lyrics were changed after team president Edward Bennett Williams met in 1972 with a delegation of Native Americans representatives, including Dennis Banks from the American Indian Movement, LaDonna Harris, president of Americans for Indian Opportunity, and Leon Cole, president of the National Congress of American Indians. They asked him to replace the team nickname, retire the female "Redskinette" dancers in pseudo-native dress, and change the lyrics to the fight song. Williams listened to their concerns, but in the end he only changed the song lyrics, saying "The swamp 'ems, scalp 'ems and heap 'ems is a mockery of dialect. We won’t use those lyrics anymore." [12][13]

Dallas Cowboys incident

When the NFL began considering expansion to Texas, Marshall strongly opposed the move, as it would threaten what had been a three-decade monopoly for the team in the South. Potential owner Clint Murchison, who was trying to bring the NFL back to Dallas, bought the rights to "Hail to the Redskins" from a disgruntled Breeskin and threatened to prevent Marshall from playing it at games. Marshall agreed to back Murchison's bid, Murchison gave him back the rights to the song, and the Dallas Cowboys were born.[14]

Other usage

The LG Twins of the Korea Baseball Organization use the tune of "Hail to the Redskins" in their own fight song.[15]


  1. ^ Mooshil, Maria (2006-12-01). "10 more things to know about Bears fight song". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2013-04-09.
  2. ^ Keim, John. "Washington Commanders: Inside the NFL franchise's search for a new nickname and logo". ESPN.com. Retrieved 2 February 2022.
  3. ^ "The Woman Behind the Best Version of "Hail to the Redskins"". Blog.redskins.com. Retrieved 16 December 2014.
  4. ^ Denlinger, Ken (August 30, 1992). "USED TO BE, 'FIGHT FOR OLD DIXIE'". washingtonpost.org. The Washington Post. Retrieved April 15, 2021.
  5. ^ Loverro, Thom (25 August 2006). Hail Victory: An Oral History of the Washington Redskins. John Wiley & Sons. p. 37. ISBN 9780471725107.
  6. ^ Richman, Michael (21 August 2009). The Redskins Encyclopedia. Temple University Press. p. 45. ISBN 9781592135448.
  7. ^ Thomas, Evan (4 December 2012). The Man to See. Simon and Schuster. p. 168. ISBN 9781439127964.
  8. ^ "Washington Redskins Team History | Pro Football Hall of Fame Official Site". www.profootballhof.com.
  9. ^ video of letter
  10. ^ Garnett, Bernard (23 October 1965). "The Afro American - Google News Archive Search". The Afro American. p. 5.
  11. ^ Richman, Michael (2009). The Redskins Encyclopedia. Temple University Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-1592135448.
  12. ^ Baird, Jonathan P. (September 4, 2014). "My Turn: For the Washington Redskins and the NFL, there is no defense". concordmonitor.com. The Concord Monitor. Retrieved April 15, 2021.
  13. ^ Lantry, Lauren (July 3, 2020). "Washington Redskins to undergo 'thorough review' of team name". abcnews.go.com. ABC News. Retrieved April 15, 2021.
  14. ^ Toomay, Pat. "A rivalry for a song ... and chicken feed". ESPN. Retrieved 16 December 2014.
  15. ^ "LG Twins Fight Song". YouTube.com. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 16 December 2014.