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Smiffenpoofs, 70, to Celebrate Rich History

By Jennifer Gabrielle ’06


Smiffenpoofs 2005-06

On a sunny day in 1936, while attending a picnic with students from their brother school, Yale University, a few Smith students were inspired by the sounds of the Yale Whiffenpoofs, the nation’s oldest collegiate a cappella group, still performing today.

The Smithies of 70 years ago returned to campus with the strains of a cappella still in their ears and determined to form their own singing group. The Smiffenpoofs (now nicknamed the Poofs) was born.

Seventy years later, the Smiffenpoofs—the nation’s oldest female college a cappella group—are still going strong. They will celebrate the group’s anniversary this Friday, April 28, with a “Poofs on the High Seas” a cappella invitational at 7:30 p.m. in Weinstein Auditorium, Wright Hall. Admission is $2.

The performance, in which the Smiffenpoofs will be joined by the Megalomaniacs, a coed group from Colby College, and Nice Shoes from Mount Holyoke College, is a stepped-up version of the Poofs annual spring jam, says Jennifer Paul ’07J, assistant business manager.

“We wanted to make it a little bit bigger for our 70th,” she said. “We’re trying to get the Yale Whiffenpoofs.”

The Smiffenpoofs invited nearly a dozen group alumnae back to campus to perform alongside the current troupe. Yumi Aikawa ’04, for example, will fly in from Berkeley, California.

“She’s still very much a part of the a cappella scene,” says Paul. “She founded and is now singing in Rapid Transit, a San Francisco/Bay Area a cappella group.”

The Smiffenpoofs’ kinship stays with members after they graduate, Paul says. “I talked to an alum from the class of ’68, and it’s great to see, they’re just as enthusiastic now as they were then. They still remember their parts and all the words. The pride that people take in it, and a sense of community [is] my favorite part of being in the Poofs—sharing that history.”

The Smiffenpoofs will perform two debut arrangements by Louisa Sullivan ’09, of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” and Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek.” They will also sing past favorites like Patty LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade” and Seal’s “Crazy.” Of course, the night would not be complete without the Richard Rodgers classic “Manhattan,” a group standard. “That’s the song we invite alums up on stage to sing with us because everyone knows it,” says Paul.

Following the spring jam, the Poofs will sing on Saturday, April 29, at 3:30 p.m. in the College Club for Simply Smith, an Office of Admissions event, and again at 10:30 p.m. in the Campus Center Carroll Room for the Smith College Senior Ball.

During this year’s reunion events on May 20, the Poofs will extend their 70th anniversary celebration with a larger gathering of alumnae, joining the classes of ’41 and ’56, and participating in a musical event from 3 to 4 p.m. in Sage Hall called “Did you sing at Smith?” which will feature members of various vocal ensembles from all class years. The Poofs will then perform as part of Illumination Night at 8:30 p.m. that evening along the lantern-lit college paths.

As they always have, the Smiffenpoofs these days stick close together through their years at Smith, says Paul. “[We’re] a very large, happy family,” she says, “but like any family, a little dysfunctional. We spend so much time together, we get to know all our idiosyncrasies. It’s a really tight-knit group.”

A History of Poofs
The Smiffenpoofs’ storied history is documented in the Sophia Smith Collection, which contains old rosters, pictures and records of past performances, as well as some of the group’s traditions. At least through the 1960s, says Paul, the selection process “may have been more like rushing, like you would for a fraternity or sorority. [But] like we do now, it seems Poofs have always been sung-in by surprise.”

One of the most significant changes over the years is the group’s repertoire. “In the last 20 to 30 years, we’ve started singing more contemporary songs,” explains Paul. As a cappella has gained popularity on campuses nationwide, the Poofs were among many who chose to cater to the tastes of a younger audience.

The Smiffenpoofs look forward to celebrating their history along with those who have contributed to it, says Paul. “It’s an incredible honor to be able to say I’m a part of a group that’s been a pioneer in its field. It reflects my experience here at Smith, where I feel like I’m surrounded by a lot of people doing incredible, ground-breaking things. It also gives me a real sense of history at school here.”

Part of the Smiffenpoofs commemoration, the group’s newest album will include recordings dating back as far as the 1970s, says Paul. The CD, currently in the mixing process, is expected to be released in time for reunion.

For more information on these and other upcoming events, visit www.smith.edu/smiffenpoofs.

4/24/06
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