Richard Smith Vaughn (April 12, 1919 – September 26, 1991), known as Billy Vaughn, was an American singer, multi-instrumentalist, orchestra leader, and A&R man for Dot Records.
Vaughn was born in Glasgow, Kentucky, United States, where his father, Alvis Radford Vaughn, was a barber who loved music and inspired Billy to teach himself to play the mandolin at the age of three, while suffering from measles. He went on to learn a number of other instruments.
In 1941, Vaughn joined the United States National Guard for what had been planned as a one-year assignment, but when World War II broke out, he was in for the duration as a valued musician and composer at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Major General Daniel I. Sultan decided that Vaughn was too valuable to the base’s Thirty-Eighth Division big band, and kept him at Camp Shelby for the duration of the war. He decided to make music a career when he was discharged from the army at the end of the war, and on the GI Bill, attended Western Kentucky State College, now known as Western Kentucky University, majoring in music composition.
He had apparently learned barbering from his father, because he did some while studying at Western Kentucky to support himself financially, when he was not able to get jobs playing the piano at local night clubs and lounges. While he was a student there, three other students, Jimmy Sacca, Donald McGuire, and Seymour Spiegelman, who had formed a vocal trio, the Hilltoppers, recruited Vaughn to play the piano with them. He soon added his voice to theirs, converting the trio to a quartet. As a member of the group, he also wrote their first hit song, “Trying”, which charted in 1952.
In 1954, he left the group to join Dot Records in Gallatin, Tennessee, as music director. He subsequently formed his own orchestra which had a hit single in that same year with “Melody of Love.” It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. He went on to have many more hits over the next decade and a half, and, based purely on chart successes, was the most successful orchestra leader of the rock era.
Vaughn charted a total of 42 singles on the Billboard charts, often based on the sound of two alto saxophones. He also charted thirty six albums on the Billboard 200, beginning with 1958’s Sail Along Silv’ry Moon and ending with 1970’s Winter World of Love. He also had nineteen Top 40 hits in (Germany), beginning with the chart-topping “Sail Along, Silv’ry Moon”, also a gold record, which was a cover of a 1937 Bing Crosby hit. He had two more number ones in Germany: “La Paloma” and “Wheels” (all three were reportedly million sellers). Billy Vaughn’s recording of “Wheels” was No. 1 for 14 weeks in Germany (Hit Bilanz) as well as No. 1 in India, New Zealand, and Italy (Billboard hits of the world, various issues 1961). Vaughn also charted in Australia, Latin America, and Japan. “Pearly Shells” was a major success in Japan. Vaughn’s tours of that country began about the time “Pearly Shells” was a hit in 1965.
Many songs which were not US hits or even singles releases there, were major hits in other countries. These included “Lili Marlene”, “Zwei Gitarren am Meer”, “Blueberry Hill” (Germany), and “Greenfields”. Also successful were “Song of Peace”, “It’s a Lonesome Old Town” (Japan), “Michelle” (No 1 in Argentina and Malaysia), “Mexico” (No. 1 in the Philippines), and “Bonanza” (a major success in Brazil and Italy [Billboard Hits of the World, 1960s]) plus “Theme from the Dark at the Top of the Stairs” (various Latin American countries). The album La Paloma was a success throughout Latin America. He also had a number one album in Germany in the early 1980s with Moonlight Melodies, which consisted of 20 of Billy’s biggest hits (original Dot recordings, original LP notes and credits).
The Billy Vaughn Orchestra began touring in 1965 with numerous sell-out tours throughout Japan, Brazil, and South Korea.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Vaughn lived in Palm Springs, California. He died of peritoneal mesothelioma at Palomar Hospital in Escondido, California, on September 26, 1991, aged 72. He and his wife Marion are buried at the Oak Hill Memorial Park in Escondido.
On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Billy Vaughn among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire. The Billy Vaughn Orchestra, co-owned and managed by his son, Richard Smith Vaughn Jr., is still a touring big band. The Billy Vaughn Orchestra, produced by the Tate Corporation, Japan, toured Japan in 2013, 2014, and again in 2018 to sell-out audiences. (wikipedia)
And this is a very nice Easy Listening album from this period, including a great gosepl tune called “Michael” and the German Folk Song “Muss i denn” (“Wooden Heart”); another hightlights are “Blue Moon” and “Serenade Of The Bells”.
The Billy Vaughan Orchestra
01. Berlin Melody (Gaze) 2.27
02. Michael (Fisher) 2.21
03. Mexico (Bryant) 1.548
04. Wooden Heart (Weisman/Kaempfert/Wise/Twomey) 2.09
05. Together (DeSylva/Brown/Henderson) 2.03
06. It Happened In Adano (Pelosi/Fields/Feltz) 2.24
07. Autumn Love Songs (Version 2) (Vaughn/Wood)
08. Blue Tomorrow (Morris/Griffin) 2.20
09. Clair de Lune (Debussy/Rogers) 2.10
10. I Can’t Help It (Williams) 2.12
11. Blue Moon (Version 2) (Hart/Rodgers) 2.10
12. Till I Waltz Again With You (Version 2) (Prosen) 2.10
13. Serenade Of The Bells (Goodhart/Urbano/Twomey) 2.36
14. Come September (Darin) 2.28
Billy Vaughn (April 12, 1919 – September 26, 1991)