UNC Charlotte’s Alma Mater has deep roots in the institution’s history. It was part of an “Academic Festival March” composed for UNC Charlotte by James Helme Sutcliffe, a Charlotte composer and music critic who lived in Germany at the time. Dr. Loy Witherspoon, professor of religious studies, commissioned the March in 1965 when he learned that Charlotte College would become a campus of The University of North Carolina. The March was first performed in 1967 at the installation of Dean W. Colvard as UNC Charlotte’s first chancellor. Afterwards, it was performed as a recessional at every Commencement during Dean W. Colvard’s tenure as chancellor. When UNC Charlotte founder Bonnie Cone heard the March, she said, “I can hear an alma mater in it,” referring to a hymn-like refrain. Dr. Robert Rieke, a professor of history, also heard an alma mater in it.
On a 1990 trip to Germany, Rieke visited Sutcliffe, picked up a recording of the March, and began writing words to fit the final refrain. On Christmas Eve 1991, he sent Bonnie Cone the words and music as a Christmas present to her and to the University, from which he had retired a year earlier. Chancellor James H. Woodward approved the composition as the University’s Alma Mater in April 1992. It was sung for the first time at the following May Commencement and has been performed at every Commencement since.
Hail University! To you we sing our praise.
May Charlotte’s light dispel the night illumine all our days.
In Carolina’s crown the brightest gem we see.
Without your power our finest hour would hold no victory.
So let us love your life and cherish your great name.
To aid your cause, uphold your laws, and your enduring fame.