Buffoons celebrate 50 years of singing

Current and former members of CU-Boulder’s oldest collegiate a cappella singing group reunited during Homecoming weekend to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Buffoons.

Inspired by the prestigious Yale Whiffenpoofs, the Buffoons was launched in 1962. In the years since, 12-16 CU male undergraduates in the Buffoons have performed a varied repertoire, including many genres from R&B to soul and from rock to pop with instances of vocal percussion or “beatboxing.”

A cappella singing has grown significantly in popularity,” said Oakleigh “Oak” Thorne, who founded the Buffoons. “It’s definitely here to stay. Every couple of weeks I drop by their rehearsals and give them a comment or two.”

Thorne, who had been the musical director of the Yale Whiffenpoofs, came to CU-Boulder in 1954 to work on his PhD in biology.  In 1962, at the request of Thorne, the Whiffenpoofs came to Boulder to perform on campus. When Thorne introduced the singing group to the audience, he suggested that a similar a cappella group be started at CU-Boulder.

After the concert, CU-Boulder juniors Don Grusin and Roger Nelson asked Thorne if he would help organize a campus a cappella group. With a nod to the university’s buffalo mascot, the singers called themselves the BUFFoons. The spelling has since been changed to all lower case letters.

In 1963, they recorded an album entitled Songs of the CU BUFFoons. The album cover was photographed in Mary Rippon Theatre on campus with the group onstage looking dapper in gray flannel slacks, tan camel-hair blazers, and a brown-and-buff-colored striped tie designed by Thorne. In the foreground was “a sultry, young blonde-haired woman wearing a black dress and holding a long cigarette holder, which made a great album cover,” joked Thorne.

Numerous albums have been recorded by the Buffoons through the years. Albums are available on iTunes and CDs. The newest album released last spring is titled Under the Arches.

A group of current and alumni Buffoons will perform Friday at the Pearl Street Stampede. Saturday they will sing CU’s alma mater on Folsom Field before the CU-Stanford football game.

Joe Riedel, a senior majoring in ethnic studies and political science, a second tenor and the Buffoons’ business manager, is looking forward to singing with Buffoon alumni coming for the reunion.

“I never thought I’d join an a cappella group and here I am helping lead one," said Riedel. "Joining these guys was the best decision I’ve made at CU.”

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