Back in 1907, five Yale students were performing weekly at Mory’s Temple Bar, a private club adjacent to the Yale campus. After going nameless for many performances, the group decided it was time for a name and one member suggested “The Whiffenpoofs ” – a name taken from a musical comedy playing on Broadway. The meaning of the word was not important. The group simply agreed that the name fit the mood of their performances and, in 1909, the Whiffenpoofs were born. Cole Porter, Yale class of 1913, is the most famous group member, writing three hundred songs while he was a student. As America’s oldest a cappella singing group, the Whiffenpoofs honor Porter by including some of his songs in each performance.
Whether they realize it or not, most people have heard the most famous song by the group, aptly named “The Whiffenpoof Song.” The song is an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s ” Gentleman Rankers” and has been heard in television shows and movies throughout the years. It was first covered in 1937 by Rudy Vallee and even recorded by Elvis. In 1952, Bing Crosby sang it to Marilyn Monroe in the film Monkey Business. This iconic song is traditionally the final song in each performance by the Whiffenpoofs.
The group is made up of fourteen Yale seniors, most of whom had participated in other singing groups on campus during their first two years. An intense competition during their junior year determined which students would be selected for each of the fourteen coveted spots. Those selected perform year-round. For three months during the summer, the Whiffenpoofs travel all over the world to perform.
Although Yale became co-ed in 1968, the Whiffenpoofs were reluctant to admit women, fearing they would lose their signature sound and appeal. After years of debate and several failed attempts to change the all-male policy, the Whiffenpoofs finally agreed in 2018 to accept women.
The Whiffenpoofs continue to perform each Friday at Mory’s. Let’s hope their beautiful harmonies will be heard for another hundred years.
(by Carol Starkey)