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U Of I Professor And Student Create “Illini Anthem”

University of Illinois Marching Illinois

URBANA – University of Illinois football and basketball fans will hear a new fight song joining the traditional music during the upcoming season. The Illini will be marching to a hip-hop beat.

The “Illini Anthem” is a song composed by Lamont Holden, University of Illinois instructor of music production, who is also a music producer, audio engineer, podcast host and sound designer. 

Champaign rapper Jarrel Young, who is pursuing a Master’s degree in Social work at the university, co-wrote and voiced the lyrics. Young says this much more than another fight song.

“I see this breaking barriers, knocking down doors, giving other individuals from different, diverse backgrounds access to the university,” says Young. “And just with what’s going on in the Champaign-Urbana community right now with a lot of the violence, we need to shine a positive light on Champaign-Urbana.”

Young and the Marching Illini will perform “Illini Anthem” at freshman orientation and at the August 28 Illini football season opener against Nebraska.

The song includes hip-hop lyrics and beats. A portion of lyrics read: 

“Welcome to the coolest school; reppin’ orange and blue; big tier university. Where we’re kicking like a ‘rati; got the smartest student body; and strivin’ for diversity…”

University of Illinois School of Music Director Jeff Sposato and Marching Illini Band Director Barry Houser also collaborated on the song.

Sposato says the song represents inclusivity and outreach to potential music students, regardless of song.

What do we need to do to make sure that we’re a place that reaches out to everybody with talent,” says Sposato. “And that it’s not about how many years of private lessons you’ve had, whether you were able to afford to go to specialized summer camps or anything like that. How do we get people and talent to come to school and feel like… we don’t just pay lip service to their culture but embrace it? This [Illini Anthem] is what we’re trying to do.”

Houser says the song reflects culture of Historically Black College and Universities.  And he’s already witnessed U of I students react to it.

“It lays down an awesome track,” says Houser. “When we play that in the stands, that is the one that gets everyone on their feet and their just on their feet dancing it up.”

Click here to listen to the entire song on The 21st talk show, plus an interview featuring Holden, Young, Sposato and Houser.


Picture of Reginald Hardwick

Reginald Hardwick

Reginald Hardwick is the News & Public Affairs Director at Illinois Public Media. He oversees daily newscasts and online stories. He also manages The 21st Show, a live, weekday talk show that airs on 7 NPR stations throughout Illinois. He is the executive producer of IPM's annual environmental TV special "State of Change." And he is the co-creator of Illinois Soul, IPM's Black-focused audio service that launched in February 2024. Before arriving at IPM in 2019, he served as News Director at WKAR in East Lansing and spent 17 years as a TV news producer and manager at KXAS, the NBC-owned station in Dallas/Fort Worth. Reginald is the recipient of three Edward R. Murrow regional awards, seven regional Emmy awards, and multiple honors from the National Association of Black Journalists. Born in Vietnam, Reginald grew up in Colorado and is a graduate of the University of Northern Colorado. Email: rh14@illinois.edu Twitter: @RNewsWILL

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