It might not seem like it, but NBC’s “The West Wing” and “The Sing-Off,” “Glee” and presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton all have something in common. They have all been graced by the Yale Whiffenpoofs, the nation’s oldest collegiate a capella group.
The musical group, founded in 1909, was originally a quintet that met at Mory’s Temple Bar in New Haven, Connecticut. After developing campus fame at Yale, the group came up with the name “Whiffenpoofs” through an infamous 1908 operetta “Little Nemo.” However, their fame came through “The Whiffenpoof Song” based in part on a Rudyard Kipling poem and covered by artists such as Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley and Louis Armstrong. Notable members of the group have included John Stewart and Prescott Bush, father to George H. W. Bush. Their works now are primarily “a mix of old-school jazz arrangements and newer arrangements from throughout the decades.” The Whiffs are also a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is made up and run by students. Yale University senior and Whiffenpoofs’ business manager Ian Billinge has enjoyed being a new member of the all-seniors a capella group. He said that the group practices “three or four times a week, about 10 to 12 hours,” and is always working on new material.
Billinge is also excited for their plans this fall. “Right now,” Billinge says, “we’re looking ahead and getting ready for our Midwestern Tour. We’ll be stopping in Iowa, Chicago, East Lansing and Ann Arbor.” Billinge himself has a vested interest in bringing the Whiffenpoofs to East Lansing: “I grew up in East Lansing,” he says, “from birth until I was around 11 years old, but East Lansing has remained close to my heart.” Billinge hopes to show his fellow singers all the local sights, and he says, “It’s going to be great, and a little surreal, having the guys meet my friends back home.” Some of Billinge’s friends and family have even helped arrange a place for the group to stay while they are in town.
Billinge isn’t the first Whiffenpoof to come from East Lansing. A 2009 article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interviewed then 22-year-old Jesse Obbink on his thoughts on being a Whiff. “It’s an awesome responsibility,” he said. “One of the things I enjoy most about our tours is that we get to meet people who see us as more than just Yale students.” Both Obbink and Billinge have represented more than just Yale, however; they’ve showcased the talent that East Lansing is always proud to offer. For this show, Billinge has high hopes that it will impress.
“One of the great things about a capella music is that it appeals to people of all ages,” Billinge said. “This show is great for the whole family, and we’ve got some great new material that we’ve been excited to work on.”
Billinge would not share the full set list, but he did say that they will be performing a new arrangement of a song by Cole Porter, one of the original members of the Whiffs. Part of the proceeds for the concert will be donated to The People’s Church.
The Yale Whiffenpoofs Yale Whiffenpoofs Sunday, Oct. 15 7:30 p.m. $20/$25 Priority/ $11 Students The Peoples Church of East
Lansing 200 W. Grand River Ave., East Lansing.whiffenpoofs.com thepeopleschurch.com (517) 332-5073