The Early Years: 1956-1970s
The YellowJackets were formed by Dr. Ward Woodbury, Jr., who was appointed Director of Music on the River Campus in 1954. The group was formed as part of the original Men’s Glee Club, a group no longer in existence. Their first engagement was for the spring 1956 graduation ceremony. Most men sang in both the Yellow Jackets and the Glee Club, and performed music accompanied by piano.
While called the YellowJackets, after the University of Rochester’s mascot, the group originally performed in blue blazers with red and black ties. The iconic yellow blazers were not purchased until 1958. Adding to the yellow jackets, the men began wearing tux pants and bow ties and created the look that clearly identifies the YellowJackets today.
The YellowJackets wasted no time making their mark on history and the group recorded its first record, a 78 rpm vinyl disc, in 1959. The ensemble continued to produced records, recording some of the finest music for male voices. For a brief time in the late 1970’s, the ensemble had a feminine touch with the addition of Esther (Wei) Stein and Sara Krusenstjerna as their accompanist. The YellowJackets continued the 100 year tradition of the Men’s Glee Club under the direction of Roger Wilhelm, and began their move into the next 25 years.
A New Format: 1980s-1990s
Beginning in 1981, the YellowJackets began their transition from accompanied music into their current a cappella format. The uniform faced the changing fashion trends of the 1980’s, returning to a blue tie, and then bringing back the ever-popular YellowJackets. In 1987, the group recorded their last vinyl album in a one-day marathon session. While vinyl was out, the group would be able to look forward to 17 more albums over the upcoming years. Besides switching over to an all a cappella format, the late 1980’s saw the group introducing vocal percussion into their arrangements.
By the late 1980’s, the alumni bas was expanding and the YellowJackets had their first alumni reunion concert in 1991, held on the River Campus. The tradition has continued to this day, and alumni come together to reconnect every Meliora Weekend. Due to the connections of a distinguished alumnus, the YellowJackets had the opportunity to perform for holiday tours at the White House, and even took a moment to pose with former President Clinton’s cat, Socks.
The group created the YellowJackets Alumni Association in 1997 in order to open communication between increasing generations of members. The Alumni Association proved beneficial in the upkeep of the expanding alumni database and the organization of the successful 50th anniversary concert, held in 2006. Also in 1997, the group created their website Jackets.org, which now connects the world to the group’s news, pictures, videos, and events.
The New Wave: 2000-2009
In 2000, the YellowJackets broke ties with the River Campus Music Department and became an independent, self-sustaining organization recognized by the U of R Student’s Association. All activities are organized by a group-elected board, sending the group into the greater Rochester area and beyond.
The group continued to work in the studio, releasing 5 albums in the decade, and also added to their touring schedule. Spring Break performance trips to Southern California and the Southeastern US highlighted their travels, in addition to many performances around the country at other universities and colleges. With these trips, the YellowJackets’ worked towards their mission: to spread an appreciation and affinity for music of all genres to people of all ages.