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Vaughn, Billy

Vaughn, Billy

Vaughn, Billy, American bandleader, arranger, and vocalist; b. Glasgow, Ky., April 12, 1919; d. Escondido, Calif. Sept. 26, 1991. Vaughn had three distinct yet overlapping careers as a popular musician from the 1950s to the 1970s: as the baritone singer in the male vocal quartet the Hilltoppers he shared in their 20 chart singles between 1952 and 1957, including the million-seller “P.S. I Love You”; as musical director of Dot Records, he arranged successful recordings by such artists as Pat Boone, The Fontane Sisters, and Gale Storm; and as the leader of his own studio orchestra he made a series of largely instrumental recordings, many employing a “twin sax” sound, reaching the singles charts 35 times and the albums charts 41 times between 1954 and 1970, with among others the chart-topping single “Melody of Love” and the #1 LP Theme from “A Summer Place”.

Vaughn attended Western Ky. State Coll. in Bowling Green and went to a barbers school in Louisville. He served in the army during World War II. He was the pianist in Ace Dinning’s band in Bowling Green when he met Jimmy Sacca, a student at Western Ky. State who sang barbershop harmonies with his fellow students Seymour Spiegelman and Don McGuire. Vaughn wrote “Trying” and recorded it with them, adding his own voice to create a quartet, The Hilltoppers. The recording was picked up by Dot Records and released in May 1952. It entered the charts in August and reached the Top Ten in October.

The Hilltoppers returned to the Top Ten in October 1953 with a million-selling revival of the 1934 song “P.S. I Love You” (music by Gordon Jenkins, lyrics by Johnny Mercer), which was backed by another Top Ten hit, Vaughn’s composition “I’d Rather Die Young (Than Grow Old Without You).” In November both sides of their next single, “To Be Alone”/”Love Walked In” (music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin), peaked in the Top Ten, and they scored two more Top Ten hits in 1954, “Till Then” (music and lyrics by Eddie Seiler, Sol Marcus, and Guy Wood) in February and “From the Vine Came the Grape” (music by Leonard Whitcup, lyrics by Paul Cunningham) in March.

Vaughn reduced his involvement with the Hilltoppers during 1954, hiring a replacement to tour while still continuing to record with them, and he began arranging and conducting other recording sessions at Dot Records. In February 1955 he scored back-to-back million-selling#1 singles, first with the Fontane Sisters’ recording of “Hearts of Stone” (music by Rudy Jackson, lyrics by Eddy Ray) and then with his own instrumental “Melody of Love” (music by H. Engelmann, new lyrics by Tom Glazer). Before the end of the year he had participated in six more Top Ten hits, often by writing and conducting middle-of-the-road arrangements of recent R&B and rock ’n’ roll songs: “Only You (And You Alone)” (music and lyrics by Buck Ram and Andre Rand) by the Hilltoppers; “Seventeen” (music and lyrics by John Young Jr., Chuck Gorman, and Boyd Bennett) by the Fontane Sisters; the million-selling #1 “Ain’t That a Shame” (music and lyrics by Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew) and “At My Front Door (Crazy Little Mama)” (music and lyrics by John C. Moore and E wart G. Abner Jr.) by Pat Boone; “I Hear You Knocking” (music and lyrics by Dave Bartholomew and Pearl King) by Gale Storm; and his own version of the novelty song “The Shifting Whispering Sands” (music by Mary M. Hadler, lyrics by V. C. Gilbert), with a spoken narration by Ken Nordine.

Another nine Top Ten singles were conducted and arranged by Vaughn in 1956, five of them by Pat Boone, including the million-sellers “I’ll Be Home” (music and lyrics by Stan Lewis and Ferdinand Washington), “I Almost Lost My Mind” (music and lyrics by Ivory Joe Hunter), and “Friendly Persuasion (Thee I Love)” (music by Dmitri Tiomkin, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster); the others were by Gale Storm and the Fontane Sisters. In August, Vaughn released his first album under his own name, The Golden Instrumentals,it eventually went gold.

There were another nine Vaughn-related Top Ten hits in 1957, including Boone’s five million-sellers “Don’t Forbid Me” (music and lyrics by Charles Singleton), “Why Baby Why” (music and lyrics by Luther Dixon and Larry Harrison), “Love Letters in the Sand” (music by J. Fred Coots, lyrics by Nick Kenny and Charles Kenny), “Remember You’re Mine” (music and lyrics by Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe), and “April Love” (music by Sammy Fain, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster), and Vaughn’s own million-selling, double-sided instrumental single “Sail Along Silvery Moon” (music by Percy Wenrich, lyrics by Harry Tobias)/”Raunchy” (music by William E. Justis Jr., and Sidney Manker).

Pat Boone scored another four Vaughn-arranged Top Ten hits in 1958, including the million-seller “A Wonderful Time Up There,” but as the singer’s career faded, Vaughn turned increasingly to his own instrumental albums, and he charted with three during the year, notably the gold-selling, Top Ten LP Sail Along Silv’ry Moon,released in March. Prominently employing two saxophones pitched a third of an octave apart to play the melody, he turned out albums largely devoted to his own arrangements of recent hits. There were three more chart albums in 1959, including the gold-selling, Top Ten hit Blue Hawaii,released in May.

Vaughn reached his commercial peak in 1960, when he released five albums, three of which, Theme from “A Summer Place”, Look for a Star,and Theme from “The Sundowners”,made the Top Ten, with Theme from“A Summer Place”topping the charts in May and going gold. Three more albums reached the charts in 1961, among them Orange Blossom Specialand Wheels,which reached the Top Ten. Vaughn also arranged and conducted another major hit for Pat Boone, “Moody River” (music and lyrics by Gary D. Bruce), which topped the charts in June. He scored three new chart albums in 1962, including the Top Ten A Swingin’ Safari,and two of his three 1963 chart albums, 1962’s Greatest Hitsand Sukiyaki and 11 Hawaiian Hits,also reached the Top Ten.

After 1963, Vaughn’s record sales fell off, although he charted four albums in 1964, two in 1965, three in 1966, six in 1967 (including two by the Billy Vaughan Singers and a hits compilation), two in 1968, and one each in 1969 and 1970. He continued to record until his death of cancer at 72 in 1991.

—William Ruhlmann

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