The Tufts Beelzebubs performed at the annual holiday open house at the White House on Dec. 9, 2023. The a cappella group got a phone call two weeks before the performance and canceled a show they had planned for that day to fly to Washington, D.C., group members said.
“It was a very surreal experience, because the day before that, we had our winter show,” first-year Preston Yeh, a member of the Bubs, said. “We ended up getting an hour and a half to two hours of sleep. We were at the airport at 4 a.m. … It felt like a weird fever dream.”
The Beelzebubs, one of many audition-based a cappella groups on campus, have performed at many renowned national and international events, having toured in Europe, Asia, South America and North America. The Bubs have released 37 albums since the group’s founding in 1962. The group was founded in the basement of West Hall, originally calling themselves “The Jumbo’s Disciples.” Around the time of the founding, one of the group members was reading “Paradise Lost” by John Milton and after seeing the word ‘Beelzebub,’ he determined it would be a more suitable name for the group.
The Bubs discovered the opportunity to perform at the White House in October after performing for the Tufts Alumni Council. However, this was not their first performance at the White House. The group performed for the Clinton and Obama administrations, according to current members.
When an attendee at the Alumni Council event mentioned there may be Tufts alumni working in the White House, the Bubs were inspired to reach out to them.
“[We] found out that the deputy chief of staff, Jen O’Malley [Dillon], is actually a Tufts alum,” Anish Guggilam, sophomore and business manager for the Beelzebubs, noted. “We texted some of our alums to get us her email through the alumni directory. … She didn’t actually respond to us, but she sent our information to the office … that the White House has to recruit volunteer groups for the holiday stuff.”
Upon receiving the invitation, the Bubs had two whirlwind weeks to rehearse.
At the open house, they performed a variety of songs from their repertoire for guests in the East Wing, ranging from their traditional set list to songs they considered more upbeat and silly.
Despite concerns about singing in front of an audience of this caliber, the Bubs still enjoyed their performance.
“Originally I thought it was going to be super professional, and I was worried we weren’t going to be able to do our thing necessarily, but then we were up there, and we were just having fun,” first-year Griffen Collins said.
Not only was the White House performance a new experience for these singers, but the travel opportunity was exciting for the group as well.
“I had never been to D.C. before, so getting to travel there was cool in general, especially with a big group,” first-year Peter Hitzeman said. “The White House was very decorated, so going inside and walking through that was really pretty. It was fun to go through … the rooms in the [East] Wing.”
The group was given a tour before their performance. Even though the opportunity was intimidating, the bond their group shared made them feel secure in a new space.
“It felt more comfortable because it was all of us there, and people were walking by, so it was not a ton of pressure,” Hitzeman said.
After their performance, the Bubs went to Maryland to celebrate with Beelzebubs alumni.
“[We] met up with maybe six or seven other alums. We had brunch, we sang some songs for them and we hung out because we hadn’t seen a lot of [them] in a while,” senior Adam Bernstein said. “It was a really cool chance to see those guys and for the new guys to meet them. We just had a great chill day of recovery after the delirium of Saturday.”
Over the winter break, the group spent some time on a retreat in Maine, where they have been recording their newest album to be released early next fall. The Beelzebubs record a new album roughly every two years, with the help of alumni from both the Beelzebubs and the Amalgamates, another a cappella group at Tufts.
“We have a connection with Plaid Productions, which is composed of a former Bub and a former Mate, and the two of them are amazing at recording a cappella. It’s their whole business,” Bernstein said. “They came with us up here for 10 days, and each day we [would] record a different song.”
The Beelzebubs typically perform gigs once a week and are available for bookings. The group's next Tufts performance is at Goddard Chapel on March 1 at 8 p.m.