The song in its present form was composed in 1900 and is generally attributed to Allan M. Hirsh, Yale Class of 1901, who in a 1930 letter claimed to have written it in collaboration with his classmates F. M. Van Wicklen, Albert Marckwald, and James L. Boyce in the fall of 1900. Though the claim was disputed by Marckwald (who was credited with the tune in the 1901 Class Book) and others, the weight of the evidence (including several articles in the Yale Alumni Weekly from 1900 and 1901) supports Hirsh's claim.
However, the song appears to be based on an earlier one, "La Hoola Boola" (1898), by Robert Allen "Bob" Cole and Billy Johnson, "extremely popular African American singer-songwriters of the time." When the first piano edition of "Yale Boola" appeared in 1901, it included a notice "Adapted by permission of Howley, Haviland & Dresser" (the successor publisher of "La Hoola Boola"), and Hirsh himself said in his 1930 letter: "The song was not altogether original with us, but was undoubtedly adapted from some other song but we were unable to definitively designate this song, although later on we did discover that there had been published a song, which at that time was out of print, called 'La Hula Boola,' and the air was quite similar but the time was different."
The song immediately caught on, soon being played by John Philip Sousa. It sold more sheet music in the first half of 1901 than any other song in the country, and became indelibly associated with Yale athletics.
Recordings and Adaptations
A brass-band arrangement of the "Boola Boola" tune accompanies the sequence in Peter Yates' 1969 film John and Mary in which Mary (Mia Farrow) imagines herself sitting on a bench wrapped in a blanket, watching John (Dustin Hoffman) play tennis with James (Michael Tolan) on a New York City court in the winter, both wearing Yale jerseys. Then John and James briefly sing the song in the shower while throwing wet towels onto Mary.
- Shapiro, "You can quote them."
- “A small band of students on the Yale side of the ring sang their college songs. “More work for the undertaker and no hope for Pennsy” was the theme of one refrain, while the stately measures of “Boola-boola” were pleasing to the auditors.” New York Times, February 3, 1901
- Hirsh, "The Secret Source of that Silly Tune."
- Arthur Pryor's Band - Yale Boola March, 1910, Yale University (Boola Boola), YouTube
- Yale 50th Reunion -1963 Whiffenpoofs sing 'Boola Boola', YouTube
- Yale Fight Songs Medley - Yale Glee Club 2009, YouTube
- Oklahoma's "Boomer Sooner," YouTube
- John and Mary (1969) Full Movie - Mia Farrow, Dustin Hoffman, YouTube