Treading the halls of Sterling Memorial Library this month is a blast from the Whiffenpoofs’ past.
As Yale’s oldest a cappella singing group prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary, a Whiffs exhibit housed in Sterling library is honoring a century of Mory’s cups, white gloves and melodious voices. Spending months digging through old archives and contacting Whiffenpoof alums, Barry McMurtrey ’88, an alumnus of the group and library services assistant, curated the installation. It includes memorabilia from the group’s star-studded past and a collection of album covers and jackets spanning from 1942 to the present.
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The idea originated at a cocktail party last year in the library itself when members of the Whiffs’ Centennial Committee decided to honor the group, which was founded at the old Mory’s bar on Temple Street in 1909, with a large-scale display.
“We had a very large cocktail party, and it was very successful, with people singing all over the library,” McMurtrey said. “We decided at the centennial that we were going to contact the library to mount a full display to celebrate the 100 years of Whiff and a cappella singing.”
After asking several singing groups and their alumni for memorabilia, McMurtrey looked to Whiffenpoof archives and to Richard Nash Gould ’68, who wrote a comprehensive history of the Whiffs’ influence on Yale’s campus in the 20th century.
Although McMurtrey will continue adding Whiffenpoof regalia to the library throughout the month, the exhibit’s glass cases on view are a broad overview of the group’s early history. One section is dedicated to four important group members from the Whiffs’ first decade of existence, among them legendary musician Cole Porter 1913 and Whiffs founder Carl “Caesar” Lohmann 1909, who was secretary of the University for 26 years. Another case displays an homage to the “Whiffenpoof Song,” which became the theme song of World War II.
The exhibit also takes special note of members Bill Oler ’45 and Fenno Heath ’50 MUS ’52, both of whom passed away before the centennial celebration and were instrumental in carrying on the Whiffenpoof tradition, McMurtrey said.
“Bill just passed away, and he was the first Whiffs alumnus who ever put all the song music into books,” he said. “We lost two Whiff giants just this past year before the reunion, and we’re paying tribute to both of them.”
The exhibit on display now is solely celebrating the Whiffenpoof tradition, but McMurtrey said it will eventually include memorabilia from all singing groups who have found a home at Yale.
Current Whiffenpoof business manager Michael Lavigne ’10 said he found this to be an important aspect of the exhibit because of the shared culture that has developed in the a cappella community over the past decades.
“The exhibition is not just for the Whiffs, as it has articles and artifacts from all the music groups,” Lavigne said. “The Whiffs are significant for having made it hundred years themselves but it’s important to look at how a cappella and music has grown over the years itself because, though our groups might be different in superficial ways, we have a shared historical experience.”
As the Whiffs return to their roots this month during several centennial celebrations, the current group plans to continue the tradition of mixing the old with the new. Group member Elliot Watts ’10 said he views the exhibit as a glimpse of the next century, during which the Whiffenpoofs will continue to perform as they have for the past 10 decades.
“While both embracing change and celebrating tradition, the Whiffenpoofs of the new century will no doubt continue to make the Whiffenpoofs of the last century proud,” he said.
The show will be on display until Oct. 29.