|The Yale Whiffenpoofs|
A recording of the 2006 Whiffenpoofs singing Yale's unofficial alma mater
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The Yale Whiffenpoofs, an undergraduate a cappella singing group at Yale University, is the oldest collegiate a cappella group in the United States, which was established in 1909. The line-up changes each year, and former members include Cole Porter. The Whiffenpoofs perform near the Yale campus and tour the United States and internationally.
History and activities
Established in 1909 and best known for "The Whiffenpoof Song", the group is composed of senior men who compete in the spring of their junior year for 14 spots. The Whiffs' 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 the 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. Beginning in 2010, the group sings on Wednesdays at New Haven's Union League Café.
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 Whiff tradition respectively as the "Popocatepetl" and "Pitchpipe," are chosen by members of the previous year's group. An alumni organization maintains close ties with the group.
"The Whiffenpoof Song"
"The Whiffenpoof Song," the group's traditional closing number, was published in sheet music form in 1909. It became a hit for Rudy Vallee 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, the Statler Brothers, and countless others.
Mory's refers to Mory's Temple Bar, a restaurant adjacent to the campus and especially hospitable to Yale undergraduates (it allowed them credit), and Louie to the owner (1898-1912) of Mory's, Louis Linder. The chorus is derived from the poem "Gentlemen Rankers" by Rudyard Kipling, which was set to music by Guy H. Scull (Harvard 1898) and adapted with lyrics by Meade Minnigerode (Yale 1910) and George S. Pomeroy (Yale 1910).
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. Road to Bali is the sixth entry in the seven film "Road" series starring Hope, Crosby, and Lamour, and the only entry filmed in Technicolor.
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 No. 214, forerunner 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.
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.
The Billy Bragg song, "Island of No Return" featured on the Brewing Up With Billy Bragg album features the lyrics, "I wish Kipling and the Captain were here, to record our pursuits for posterity. Me and the corporal out on a spree, damned from here to eternity."
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!"
The group adopted the Whiffenpoof emblem in 1912. Depicting a bird 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.
- In the Mel Brooks musical Young Frankenstein, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein states to Igor during the song "Together Again": "I happen to be the dean of anatomy at a world-renowned school of medicine . . . although I do sing a bit and was, in fact, a Whiffenpoof at Yale . . . "
- In the 1970s television sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show, in the first-season episode, "Just a Lunch", Lou Grant speaks of a philandering newsman's ever-changing marital status with the line, "John and his wife have had more reunions than the Whiffenpoofs."
- In the 1970s television sitcom Barney Miller, in the fifth-season episode, "The Prisoner", Hal Linden's character Barney quotes the line "Lord, have mercy on such as we," mentioning it is from the Whiffenpoof song.
- The television show Gilmore Girls mentioned the Whiffenpoofs many times. Richard Gilmore was a Whiffenpoof; a seventh-season episode featured the Whiffenpoofs singing "Living on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi.
- The Whiffenpoofs are mentioned several times and perform in the "Holy Night" episode of the television program The West Wing.
- The Whiffenpoofs are mentioned in the young adult Gossip Girl fiction series book, You're the One That I Want. In the book, Serena van der Woodsen meets the Whiffenpoofs on a campus tour and becomes enamored of them, but they're all gay.
- The character Mark in the 1999 gay-themed film Trick is revealed to have dated a former Whiffenpoof, leading a spectator to ask, "What the hell is a Whiffenpoof!?"
- In a 2004 episode of Arthur, the character Dr. Frederique Fugue is revealed to have lip-synched several times while he was a Whiffenpoof.
- Prescott Bush, U.S. Senator, father of President George H. W. Bush and grandfather of President George W. Bush
- Jonathan Coulton, singer-songwriter
- Cole Porter, composer, songwriter
- Charles Rivkin, current U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs
- John Stewart, operatic tenor
- The Rev. James M. Howard, Yale Class of 1909, "An Authentic Account of the Founding of the Whiffenpoofs".
- Brozan, Nancy, "Whiffenpoofs: 'Gentlemen songsters' still," Special to the New York Times. New York Times. (Late Edition (East Coast)). New York, N.Y.: Apr 20, 1987. pg. C.12. ISSN 0362-4331. ProQuest document ID: 956358391.
- Watson, Ben "Music made in England: Mondays at Mory's," Yankee. Dublin: Jul/Aug 2001.Vol.65, Iss. 6; pg. 65. Source type: Periodical. ISSN 0044-0191. ProQuest document ID: 74227092.
- 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.
- Time, August 2, 1937, "Whiffenpoof Contest".
- Bing Crosby discography
- Mel Brooks's "Young Frankenstein" Sheet Music collection
- "Let the Games Begin"
- Doherty, Donna (25 January 2009). "Baa, baa, baa, at 100 Whiffenpoofs sound just as good as ever". New Haven Register. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
- Rapkin, Mickey (23 March 2008). "Perfect Tone, in a Minor Key". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-23.
- Whiffenpoofs Official Site
- About The Whiffenpoof Song and Baa Baa Black Sheep at the Wayback Machine (archived July 10, 2008)
- Free scores by The Whiffenpoof Song in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)