No piece of music is more associated with the United States Navy than “Anchors Aweigh,” composed by Charles Adams Zimmerman. The sixth bandmaster at the United States Naval Academy, Zimmerman had spent three years at the Peabody Institute of Music before enlisting in the Navy after his graduation. Five years after joining the Naval Academy Band as a 3rd Cornetist, he was named the Bandmaster in 1887 at the age of 26—the youngest person to ever head up the Band. (Zimmerman’s father had been a member of the Band since 1859, two years before his birth.). The multitalented Zimmerman also served as the leader of the Midshipmen’s choir and helped launch “The Masqueraders,” a theatrical club for Midshipmen, in addition to serving as an organist at St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
A prolific composer, Zimmerman wrote marches and dedicated them to many of the Academy’s graduating classes. The Midshipmen returned the honor, with fourteen of the graduating classes presenting him with a unique gold and ebony baton between 1889 and 1911.
But his most famous March came as the result of a special request. In 1906, a Midshipman First Class named Alfred Miles (Class of ’07) met with Zimmerman and told him that he and many of his fellow Middies wished he would write an inspiring song, specifically asking that it be crafted so it could be employed as a football marching song. As the story goes, Zimmerman and Miles sat down at the chapel organ, with Zimmerman writing the music and Miles writing two stanzas of lyrics and the titles of the song.
Apparently, the song—“Anchors Aweigh”—was fairly high on the inspirational scale: After it was played by the Academy Band at the 1906 Army-Navy football game, Navy notched a victory for the first time since the turn of the century.
One of the most beloved Bandmasters in U.S. Navy history, Zimmerman passed away in early 1916, never getting a chance to see the special section devoted to his work at the Academy that was featured in that year’s edition of the Lucky Bag, the Academy’s yearbook.