The year was 2006 and seasons and circumstances had not been kind to the 1954 Whiffenpoofs. We had lost half the group by our mid-60’s, our dear Popo who devoted his life to healing folks in Africa but unfortunately had no interest in alumni singing had just died, our Pitchpipe a long time far removed Boulder resident, only six of us remaining, just one tenor. When the Class of 1954 gathered to mini-reunion in San Francisco that spring, organizers recruited a local singing group headed by Whiff Bill Stone ’52. There were four of our group present and at the close of the evening we four sang Slide Trombone and The Whiffenpoof Song with them to our great enjoyment. Then the next night after dinner the four of us joined the group two and three deep gathered around the piano to sing the evening away. One thing led to another as we began to seriously discuss the possibility of singing as a group again.
My senior society, one-third its original number, had just recently added two marvelous individuals, Dick Gilder and Charlie Watson, who by the twists of fate missed the first deserved election in 1953. And I thought, we have an ideal situation. First, Yale has always attracted singers and at least three strong groups, Augmented Seven, Duke’s Men and Alley Cats, the last mostly 54’s, had started while we were in school so we likely had lots of “potential Whiffs” still living in our class.
As for audience, there again it was ideal. In 1993 another great classmate, Joel Smilow, funded the renovation of Lapham, now Smilow, Field House, next to Cox Cage and the Bowl, and the Class of 1954 was granted use of its large hall for the big football game, either Harvard or Princeton every year. The party there, pre, during and post-game, has always drawn a crowd. This plus regular mini-reunions meant we would have at least one event every year for people who loved Whiff and Yale songs, especially the old ones.
And last, but not least, we had Russ Reynolds, Class Secretary and one of our second basses, with Debbie, the perfect host and hostess, in back country Greenwich to provide the ideal place to congregate and rehearse each November.
It required a little more discussion by phone and email, but in the succeeding weeks we voted unanimously to move forward, established contact with Whiff Alumni President Dennis Cross (a much appreciated great help), elected a successor Popo, created a mission statement and a songbook, funded a kitty generously and added four members initially in order to sing at the Princeton weekend that November. We met in Greenwich on the Thursday before the football weekend to rehearse, sang Friday night at a table down at Mory’s and then the next afternoon at the Smilow Field House for our class post game party, emerging with an invitation to the next mini in the fall of 2007 in DC. We were on our way. It was just like old times, we were a group again
The re-formed Whiffenpoofs of 1954 were initially just from ‘54 – John Franciscus, Dick Hiers, Charlie Johnson, Jim Monde, honorary member Carl Shedd also now sidelined Chuck Bullock, Harold Star and renowned Dick Gregory and now deceased Obie Clifford, Nick Peay and Buddy Thompson. Early on we made the wise decision to lure current Whiff Alumni President John Burke ’72 to co-direct our singing with Pitchpipe Oak Thorne and then to bring on Jim Doak, Ash Gulliver and Al Atherton from later classes to keep our number between 12 and 14. And in 2014 President Salovey accepted our invitation to become an Honorary Whiff and sings our Song enthusiastically with us each November.
We have performed at least once each year save one since 2006 and for a charity whenever possible, the one exception 2021 due to Covid. Besides reunions and football weekends, we have gathered annually usually for at least five days in Nantucket, Harbor Springs, the Adirondacks, as far away as Puerto Rico. We met to sing together this July for the third time in Islesboro, ME, and plan to perform at the Harvard game this fall.
The one thing we now have that was absent in 1954 – our wives. We soon discovered what a privilege to get to know them and what a great resource and blessing this is for our group. As mentioned above, when we sing together it is like old times, but it is different in a special kind of way. There has always been the fun and the excitement of the performance, but in later years there is now deep appreciation in being part of this group past and present which now even includes dear wives, so many fond memories, so many good people; a humbling realization of what a talent we have been given and must share; a closer bond and appreciation for the people in our audience; and whatever we think of her today, undying thanks to Yale.