Skip to content

Reflections of Katzenjammers Founder Mimi Danly '74

The Katzenjammers began as a dream for me during the summer before I entered Princeton as a freshman in the fall of 1970. Being among the first group of women admitted to Princeton, I knew there were no women in the all-male a cappella groups and I wanted to create a mixed singing group.

I spent that summer reading and listening to phonograph records of college a cappella groups, primarily my brother’s recording of the Yale Whiffenpoofs, and my sister’s recording of the Night Owls, an all-female a cappella group from Vassar.

It was during my freshman orientation week at Princeton that autumn, however, when my dream of creating a mixed singing group became a passion, listening to the Nassoons, the Footnotes, and the Tigertones singing in Blair Arch. Their beautiful music, the fun they were all having, the joy-filled camaraderie, and the sound of voices singing in harmony flowing out over the campus thrilled me. I knew I needed to start a mixed singing group immediately.

Not knowing how to begin, I asked each of the musical directors from the Nassoons, the Footnotes, and the Tigertones to meet with me to discuss how I might start a group. Russell Baker, musical director of the Footnotes, invited all of us to meet at Ivy Club for dinner.

Somehow I imagined that these three leaders would welcome my idea of starting a mixed singing group but each of them gently discouraged me. They encouraged me instead to start an all-female singing group.

I assumed that they must be right so I agreed and turned my attention to creating a female singing group that autumn. I called the group the Tigerlilies but that wasn’t the official name for many months until much later. And yet, as rewarding and fun as it was to sing with women alone, I never lost my dream to start a mixed singing group at Princeton as well. That would come later.

It’s hard to tell the history of the Katzenjammers without sharing the history of the Tigerlilies, as one flowed out of the other.

The Tigerlilies repertoire began that night at Ivy Club, as each of the three music directors offered me one of their arrangements to be transposed for female voices. The Footnotes gave me “My Romance.” Their three gift arrangements along with a few I created by ear from the Night Owls album, “How High the Moon,” and, “A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening,” became the foundation of the budding repertoire for the first female singing group on Princeton’s campus.

Once I had arrangements in hand, I spread the word about auditions to the women in the Princeton Glee Club and posted notices around campus. I held my first auditions for the Tigerlilies in Murray Dodge and notified the winners.

The group came together quickly and our repertoire expanded after I met a wonderful musician, a woman named Roo Brown, who lived in the town of Princeton. She gave me more arrangements to round out our repertoire, making it possible for us to be able to start performing by the end of October.

Our first performance was for the Footnotes in 1879 Arch one late October evening in 1970 after both of our groups finished our rehearsals. The Tigerlilies sang “How High the Moon,” and “This is a Lovely Way to Spend an Evening,” for the Footnotes who encouraged us by applauding and cheering us after each of our songs.

As the music director of the Tigerlilies, our first performances were for alumni gatherings on campus or for parties at the eating clubs. We often performed alongside the other male groups. It was during those evenings watching Peter Urquhart conduct the Nassoons, that I developed a big crush on him. We began dating by the end of our freshman year.

I told Peter early in our relationship that I wanted to start a mixed singing group but we both knew that it was too early to really do anything about it because we were both deeply committed to our current groups, as musical directors to the Tigerlilies and Nassoons. But once Peter was no longer musical director of the Nassoons, in our junior year, and the Tigerlilies elected a new musical director, we decided it was time to create a mixed singing group.

Our original idea was to gather a group of exceptional singers and musicians that could sing a wide range of music, everything from Bach to the Beatles. We would include a wide range of our favorite classical arrangements along with modern arrangements as well. Peter and I wanted each of the original members to have a terrific ear so we could get a great blend, tight harmonies, and synergy from the beginning.

We began creating the Katzenjammers by having a meeting in Peter’s room in Patton Hall. Peter and I invited individuals from the Nassoons, Footnotes, and Tigerlilies, each of whom represented every singing part. We knew each of them as we had sung with them and knew their voices well.

We kept our meetings secretive at first. There was great interest in the idea of a new group but there were loyalty issues as well as many of the singers we invited didn’t want to be in two groups at the same time. As time went by, each person chose which group they wanted to sing in, and the first group naturally filled out after admitting a few other people. The Katzenjammers was born.

Peter Urquhart was naturally our first music director. He created many of our arrangements and found others but it was Peter’s arrangements that really gave us our sound. It was exciting to hear a wide range of voices singing from deep bass to high soprano. There was such a great sound even in the beginning.

Often we sang together in the Dillon Gym arch after rehearsing in Peter’s room at Patton Hall. From those early days, on, the Katzenjammers became accepted and we performed at reunions thereafter.

Thinking of my favorite times with the Katzenjammers, it was when together or in small groups, especially on balmy nights in the spring when the air was fragrant with onion grass, we would sing under the arches. Those moments felt the most poignant and precious to me, when time stood still and I became aware of how fleeting these days actually were. I could easily tear up with gratitude, knowing these moments would never come again exactly in this way, creating harmony together with such exceptional people and dear friends.