Father of Twin Sax Sound
Billy Vaughn was born on April 12, 1919, in Glasgow, Kentucky. His father, Glasgow’s barber and himself a talented fiddle player, instilled in Vaughn a love of music, and when Vaughn was ailing with measles at the age of three, he taught himself how to play the mandolin, the first of many instruments he would go on to master.
In early 1941, Vaughn joined the 123rd Cavalry Mounted Band of the National Guard for what he thought would be a one-year obligation.
However, when the U.S. got involved in WWII, Vaughn was sent overseas until the War ended in 1945. After his tour abroad, Vaughn was discharged from the service and committed himself to pursuing a career in music. He also enrolled at Western Kentucky University and studied music composition. At times he had to fall back on his father’s trade of barbering to support himself financially. Vaughn had been playing small clubs and lounges in the area, and it was at one of those clubs that he met Jimmy Sacca, a fellow student at WKU. Their discussion led to the formation of the vocal group, the Hilltoppers. With the addition of Seymour Spiegelman and Don McGuire, the quartet recorded its first Top 10 hit single entitled “Trying” in 1952. One year later, they were on the cover of Cash Box magazine with a second hit, “P.S. I Love You,” which sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc. They were popular enough to draw the attention of Ed Sullivan, and later performed on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Vaughn left the Hilltoppers in 1954 to join Dot Records in Gallatin, Tennessee as music director. It was there that he began to arrange and direct recording sessions for artists including Pat Boone, Johnny Maddox, The Fontaine Sisters, and many others. It was also at this time that Vaughn formed the Billy Vaughn Orchestra, with its distinctive “twin sax” sound. Vaughn’s popularity and his impact on the music business gained momentum in those early years at Dot Records. Eventually, he would become one of the top selling instrumentalists in the U.S. with such hits as “Melody of Love,” “Blue Hawaii,” “La Paloma,” “Theme from a Summer Place,” “Pearly Shells,” and of course, his signature orchestration of “Sail Along Silvery Moon”.
“Sail Along Silvery Moon” went platinum, with sales of more than 4.5 million copies. Vaughn was the first American recording artist to be awarded a gold record in Europe, and the first artist anywhere to receive a platinum record for sales of more than 3 million. Over his 40-year career, he sold more than 200 million records worldwide. Billy Vaughn has garnered trophies and awards from Brazil (where he is known as the “King of Romantic Music”), Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Peru, Mexico, Korea, and Japan.
Billy Vaughn died at the age of 72 in Escondido, California on September 26, 1991.