The Whiffenpoofs

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The Yale Whiffenpoofs
Whiffenpoof Logo2.jpg
Background information
GenresA cappella
Years active1909–present

The Yale Whiffenpoofs is a collegiate a cappella singing group. Established at Yale University in 1909, it is the oldest such group in the United States. The line-up is completely replaced each year: the group is always composed of rising seniors, who often take a year leave of absence from the university to tour the United States and internationally.[citation needed] Former members include Cole Porter & Jonathan Coulton.


According to Whiffenpoof historian James M. Howard:

It was Goat Fowler who suggested we call ourselves The Whiffenpoofs. He had been tickled by the patter of one of the characters in a Victor Herbert musical comedy called "Little Nemo" which recently been running on Broadway. In a scene in which there was great boasting of terrific exploits in big game hunting and fishing, comedian Joseph Cawthorne told a fantastic tale of how he had caught a Whiffenpoof fish. It seems that Cawthorn had coined the word some years before when he and a fellow actor were amusing themselves by making up nonsense verses. One they particularly liked began: "A drivaling grilyal yandled its flail, One day by a Whiffenpoof's grave." Cawthorn recalled the verse in making up his patter for "Little Nemo" and put it into his act. Whether the word meant fish, flesh or fowl was irrelevant to our purpose when we chose it as our name. "Whiffenpoof" fitted in with our mood of free and exuberant fancy and it was adopted with enthusiasm.

History and activities[edit]

Established in 1909 and best known for "The Whiffenpoof Song",[1] the group is composed of senior students who compete in the spring of their junior year for 14 spots.[2] The Whiffenpoofs' best-known alumnus may be Cole Porter, who sang in the 1913 line-up; the group often performs Porter songs in tribute.

The Whiffenpoofs have performed for generations at a number of venues, including Lincoln Center, the White House, the Salt Lake Tabernacle, Oakland Coliseum, Carnegie Hall and the Rose Bowl. The group has appeared on such television shows as Jeopardy!, The Today Show, Saturday Night Live, 60 Minutes, Gilmore Girls, The West Wing, and Glee. In December 2010, the group appeared on NBC's a cappella competition The Sing-Off; they were eliminated fourth, on the second show.

During the school year, the Whiffenpoofs perform on Monday nights at Mory's, known more formally as Mory's Temple Bar, circulating from room to room.[3]

The Whiffenpoofs travel extensively during the school year and take a three-month world tour during the summer. The group's business manager and musical director, known in Whiffenpoof tradition respectively as the "Popocatepetl" and "Pitchpipe,"[2] are chosen by members of the previous year's group. An alumni organization maintains close ties with the group.

The word whiffenpoof originated in the 1908 operetta Little Nemo by Victor Herbert, based on the comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay.

Female membership[edit]

Women matriculated at Yale beginning in 1969, and votes on the subject of admitting women to the Whiffenpoofs took place starting in the 1970s.[4] Each vote denied female singers the opportunity to join the group. Women were allowed "show" auditions but were never "tapped" (chosen) for the group. As recently as November 20, 2016 the group voted against admitting women.[5] A record number of women turned out for the 2017 auditions.[6][7]

In a joint statement with their sister group, Whim 'n Rhythm, in early February 2018, the Whiffenpoofs announced that students of all genders would be eligible to audition.[8] Later in that same month, the group accepted its first female member, Sofía Campoamor.[9] The following year, the group accepted its second female member and first woman of color, Neha Bhatt.[10]

"The Whiffenpoof Song"[edit]

Whiffenpoofs of 1912 (dressed in tutus) posing with Louie Linder (in tophat), 1912

"The Whiffenpoof Song", the group's traditional closing number, is a four part male-voice choral song (TTBar.B) and was published in sheet music form in 1909. For the lyric Meade Minnigerode (Yale 1910) and George S. Pomeroy (Yale 1910)[1][11] adapted Rudyard Kipling's poem "Gentlemen-Rankers". The poem had already been set to music—though in what form is unknown—by Guy H. Scull (Harvard 1898).[12] Yale Glee Club Director Marshall Bartholomew said Scull's melody may owe a debt to the African American spiritual "Been a-Listinin' All the Night Long".[13] The arranger of the four part male-voice choral song is unknown.

In the lyrics, "Mory's" refers to Mory's Temple Bar, a restaurant next to the campus and especially hospitable to Yale undergraduates (it allowed them credit), and "Louie" to its owner (1898–1912), Louis Linder.[14] "Shall I Wasting" is shorthand for "Shall I Wasting in Despair", and "Mavourneen" stands for "Kathleen Mavourneen", both popular part-songs in the Victorian era.

In popular culture[edit]

The song has been covered many times. It became a hit for Rudy Vallée in 1937 and later in 1947 for Bing Crosby, credited to Bing Crosby with Fred Waring and The Glee Club (Decca 73940). It has also been recorded by Elvis Presley, Count Basie, Perry Como, Ray Conniff, Mitch Miller, the Ames Brothers, the Statler Brothers, and countless others.

The chorus was used in the 1949 movie 12 O'Clock High with Gregory Peck; it can be heard in the background after the unit receives its first unit commendation. It was used in the 1952 movie Monkey Business. When the tune comes on the radio, Cary Grant starts singing it to Marilyn Monroe, who declares it "a silly song". Later Ginger Rogers sings it to Grant and describes it as "our song". And later still, Grant sings it to Rogers when he is locked out of the hotel room. In the 1952 film Road to Bali from Paramount Pictures starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour, there's a scene in the beginning where Hope and Crosby find themselves in front of a herd of sheep. They sing the first part of the song's chorus with the special effect sheep "choir" adding the ending "Baa!, Baa!, Baa!" Crosby remarks, "That was helpful, wasn't it?" and Hope retorts, "Fred Waring must have played through here", in reference to Bing's hit single of the tune backed by Waring and his Glee Club.[15]

The melody is the opening theme of the 1975 television series Baa Baa Black Sheep, a fictionalization of the World War II wartime exploits of the United States Marine Corps Marine Fighter Squadron VMF-214, ancestor of the Corps's present-day VMA-214 "Black Sheep" Squadron. One of the squadron's real-life members, Paul "Moon" Mullen, adapted "The Whiffenpoof Song" for the squadron's use.[citation needed] The Whiffenpoofs can be heard singing it in the 2006 movie The Good Shepherd, in the scene where Matt Damon's son tells him he wants to join the CIA. In the play Serenading Louie by Lanford Wilson, performed at the Donmar Warehouse in London in 2010, the song is sung by the cast and by Bing Crosby.

During the song "Together Again" in the musical version of Young Frankenstein, Frederick Frankenstein confesses to Igor that he "was in fact the Whiffenpoof at Yale", which impresses Igor.

In The Simpsons episode "The Caper Chase", the Whiffenpoofs perform the song to Montgomery Burns, who offers the college a new library if he will have them killed.


Musical satirist Tom Lehrer spoofed "The Whiffenpoof Song" as part of his song "Bright College Days." Lehrer, an instructor at Yale's traditional rival Harvard University, sings of "glasses raised on high" (at which point he removes his eyeglasses and holds them up) and of drinking a toast "to those we love the best", to rhyme with "we'll pass [which may mean 'pass the final exams' or 'die'] and be forgotten with the rest." He also sings "to the tables down at Mory's, wherever that may be...", evoking a laugh from the Harvard auditorium crowd at the live recording.

In 1973, the Harvard Krokodiloes debuted a spoof, "The Krokenpoof Song", with Harvard-specific lyrics, tongue-in-cheek references, bawdy variations involving references to Whiffenpoofs and sheep, rhymes such as "We'll drink lemonade Drambuie" in place of "We will serenade our Louis", and ending with "Baa, baa, humbug!"

Mad produced parody lyrics of it that were reprinted in the 1973 book The Mad Sampler. Titled "The Hundred-Proofs Song", it suggested that rich students forgot about their studies and resorted to getting drunk at the bar, "...earning the grades we deserve, we know; – F – F – F!"

Louis Armstrong recorded a satirical version of the song, subtitled (or maybe alternatively titled) "The Boppenpoof Song", poking fun at the bebop movement in jazz. His friend Rudy Vallée contributed lyrics to that version.

The introduction and a parody of the first verse are sung by Betty Grable during the graduation scene in How to Be Very, Very Popular (1955).

The song serves as the basis for the University of Montevallo's Purple Side song, which is part of the College Night homecoming tradition.


The group adopted the Whiffenpoof emblem in 1912. Depicting a dragon with mint leaves for wings, a horse's neck, and a swizzle stick for a perch, it was designed by a cartoonist from campus humor magazine The Yale Record.[16]

Notable members[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The Rev. James M. Howard, Yale Class of 1909, "An Authentic Account of the Founding of the Whiffenpoofs".
  2. ^ a b Brozan, Nancy (Apr 20, 1987). "Whiffenpoofs: 'Gentlemen songsters' still". New York Times (Late (East Coast) ed.). p. C.12. ISSN 0362-4331. ProQuest 956358391.
  3. ^ Watson, Ben. "Music made in England: Mondays at Mory's". Yankee. 65 (6 Jul/Aug 2001). Dublin. p. 65. ISSN 0044-0191. ProQuest 74227092.
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ [3]
  7. ^ [4]
  8. ^ Eaton-Robb, Pat (February 11, 2018). "Poof! Ivy League glee club's gender restrictions disappear". The Washington Post. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  9. ^ Shimer, David (20 February 2018). "Yale's Famed Whiffenpoofs Singing Group Admits First Woman". New York Times. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
  10. ^ Daugherty, Lindsay (8 February 2019). "Whiffs accept first woman of color". Yale Daily News. Retrieved 3 February 2020.
  11. ^ Time, August 2, 1937, "Whiffenpoof Contest".
  12. ^ Case, Henry Jay (1922). Guy Hamilton Scull, Soldier, Writer, Explorer and War Correspondent. New York: Duffield and Company. pp. Introduction, xvi.
  13. ^ Duchan, Joshua (2012). Powerful Voices: The Musical and Social World of Collegiate A Cappella. University of Michigan Press.
  14. ^ George Washington Patterson IV, ed., The Class of Nineteen Hundred and Fourteen: Yale College (Yale Univ., 1914) pages 35, 400–403; Robert Kimball, ed., The Complete Lyrics of Cole Porter (NY, Knopf, 1983) page 5.
  15. ^ Bing Crosby discography
  16. ^
  17. ^ Doherty, Donna (25 January 2009). "Baa, baa, baa, at 100 Whiffenpoofs sound just as good as ever". New Haven Register. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
  18. ^ Rapkin, Mickey (23 March 2008). "Perfect Tone, in a Minor Key". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-23.

External links[edit]