Whiffenpoofs to sing for ‘West Wing’ president

The Whiffenpoofs have long performed on Mondays at Mory’s. Now, add Wednesday on NBC.

The self-proclaimed “oldest and best-known collegiate a cappella group” will appear in a holiday-themed episode of “The West Wing,” which will air Dec. 11. The political drama gives a behind-the-scenes look at the White House under President Josiah Bartlett, played by Martin Sheen.

In the show, the Whiffenpoofs perform two songs for the White House staff, “West Wing” producer Llewellyn Wells said.

Wells said Aaron Sorkin, the show’s creator and executive producer, selected the group because he had been a Whiffenpoofs fan since childhood.

Whiffenpoofs business manager Vikram Swamy ’04 said Sorkin called him last week to discuss whether the group might appear on the show. Not wanting to raise the group’s expectations in case the appearance fell through, Swamy waited until the Whiffenpoofs’ weekly performance at Mory’s to tell the group.

“Up until this Monday, I had been hiding it from the guys,” Swamy said. “It was difficult to restrain myself and not tell my guys about it.”

Although the all-male, all-senior group will have to miss part of their Thanksgiving vacation to film the show, Swamy said the Whiffs had few reservations about traveling to Los Angeles next week.

“The response was overwhelmingly positive,” Swamy said. “This is the kind of thing when you join the Whiffenpoofs you hope to have the opportunity to do.”

Swamy said he was excited for the opportunity to reach a wide audience. “The West Wing,” which premiered in 1999, typically draws more than 10 million viewers and the show won its third straight Emmy for best drama series this fall.

“This is good publicity for us and I’m excited for what it will do for our name recognition,” Swamy said.

Warner Bros., which produces “The West Wing,” will pay for the Whiffenpoofs to travel to California early next week. Swamy said the group had not yet negotiated any other form of compensation for its appearance.

Whiffenpoof Kevin Sladek ’03 said he believed Sorkin’s invitation would continue the Whiffenpoofs’ tradition of showing up “in odd ways” in popular culture.

“To suddenly feel that connection to history and realize that even though it’s been 94 years, we’re still — a part of American culture and get recognized as such — it’s very fun,” Sladek said.

The group, founded in 1909, has a long history of performing in the national spotlight. Swamy said past Whiffs have sung on “Saturday Night Live” and at sporting events including the World Series and the Rose Bowl.

In addition to their appearance on “The West Wing,” the Whiffenpoofs will perform on NBC’s “Today” in early December, Swamy said.

Courtney Williams ’03, the group’s musical director, said he was not entirely surprised by the offer given the Whiffenpoofs’ history.

“I don’t think in recent years any of the a cappella groups have done anything this high-falutin’,” Williams said. “It wasn’t completely unheard of, but ‘The West Wing’ is very special.”

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