The Spizzwinks(?) are America’s first underclassman a cappella group. In an age before iPods or reality TV, when the only way to hear singing without instruments was in the shower, we showed the world that a bunch of college guys sporting sweet harmonies and a perplexing name was a winning combination. That’s right – we liked a cappella before it was cool!
Like all great stories, the Spizzwink(?) saga begins in 1906 in Iowa, when the state was in the oppressive grip of a massive, inexplicable Corn Blight. Inexplicable, that is, except to one man: a small-town postmaster by the name of Frank Johnson. Mr. Johnson proclaimed to anyone who would listen that the Great Iowa Corn Blight was the handiwork of an insect known as the Spizzwink, which, coincidentally, only he could see. Few took heed of his warning, and the legend of the mythical Spizzwink would have been lost, but for a young boy with a sweet voice from that small town in Iowa, whose greatest ambition was to someday attend Yale University…
Flash forward to the winter of 1913, where four Yale freshmen – including a certain young man from Iowa – met at Mory’s Temple Bar, Yale’s historic tavern, to decide upon a name for their new singing group. This new group had been created to provide audiences with a light-hearted alternative to the Whiffenpoofs, Yale’s older, all-senior a cappella group, who were known as much for their stodginess as for their musical excellence. After an evening of drinking and thinking (and perhaps more of the former than the latter), our hero glimpsed a strange sight across the table: the ghost of his old postmaster, Frank Johnson. Inspiration struck, and the young singer exclaimed, “That’s it, boys! We’ll call the group the Spizzwinks!”
Later that year, the editor of Yale’s yearbook was unsure of the spelling of the fledgling group and added a question mark in parentheses as an editorial mark. The group liked the look of “The Spizzwinks(?)” and the parenthetical question mark is still with us today.