Billy Vaughn Biography

Richard Vaughn, 12 April 1919, Glasgow, Kentucky, USA, d. 26 September 1991, Escondido, California, USA. An extremely successful orchestra leader, arranger and musical director during the 50s and early 60s. In 1952, singing baritone and playing piano, he formed the Hilltoppers vocal quartet, with Jimmy Sacca, Seymour Speigelman and Don McGuire. They had a string of US hits through to 1957, commencing in August 1952 with Vaughn’s composition ‘Trying’, and in the following year with the million-selling ‘P.S. I Love You’. When Vaughn left the group in 1955 to become musical director for Dot Records, the other three members continued together until the early 60s, when they too accepted jobs with Dot.

Throughout the 50s, Vaughn contributed significantly to Dot’s chart success, particularly with his arrangements for the somewhat antiseptic ‘cover-versions’ of rock ‘n’ roll and R&B hits, especially those by black artists, who were unacceptable to some sections of the US audience. Most of the Fontane Sisters’ hits, which were backed by Vaughn’s Orchestra, were cover versions, including their million-seller, ‘Hearts Of Stone’, which was first released by the R&B group Otis Williams And The Charms. Others such examples included Gale Storm’s cover version of Smiley Lewis’ ‘I Hear You Knocking’, written by Dave Bartholomew and Pearl King, and several Pat Boone hits, including another Bartholomew number, ‘Ain’t That A Shame’, originally released by the co-writer of the song, Fats Domino. Several of Vaughn’s own instrumental hits were in the same vein; his first, ‘Melody Of Love’ (1954), was also successful for Frank Sinatra and Ray Anthony, the Four Aces and David Carroll. ‘Shifting, Whispering Sands (Parts 1 & 2)’ (with narration by Ken Nordine) was a hit for country singer Rusty Draper, and the classic ‘Raunchy’ was a million-seller for Sun Records’ musical director, Bill Justis. Vaughn’s other US Top 20 chart entries included ‘When The Lilacs Bloom Again’, ‘Look For A Star’ and German-born orchestra leader Bert Kaempfert’s ‘A Swingin’ Safari’. Vaughn was very popular in Germany; his versions of ‘Wheels’, ‘La Paloma’, and a revival of the 1937 song ‘Sail Along Silv’ry Moon’, reputedly sold a million copies in that country alone. From 1958-70 Vaughn was ever-present in the US album charts with 36 titles entering the Top 200, including the 1960 number 1, Theme From A Summer Place. Having been one of the most successful orchestra leaders during the rock ‘n’ roll era, Vaughn seemed unable to recreate that level of success in the face of the 60s beat boom. Ironically, his last single of any significance, in 1966, was a cover version of the Beatles’ ‘Michelle’.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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