Throwback Thursday – Billy Vaughn and his big band orchestra
Throwback Thursday has told the story of the Hilltoppers singing quartet from Bowling Green. This week we’re taking a closer look at one of its members, Billy Vaughn. Born in Glasgow, his musical career spanned several decades and he grew into an internationally-acclaimed musical genius.
Born in 1919, Richard Smith—or Billy—Vaughn was the son of a barber. Billy’s father, Alvis, encouraged him to learn to play a musical instrument when he was suffering from the measles at just three-years-old. Billy learned the mandolin and ukulele at that age, and went on to master several orchestra instruments.
He joined the National Guard in 1941, and became a composer and musician at Mississippi’s Camp Shelby, remaining there for the duration of all of World War II as part of the 38th Division’s big band performance group. After the war, he attended Western Kentucky Normal School, where he first met the trio of Hilltoppers. Billy played in small night clubs and Bowling Green lounges during his college days. He wrote the Hilltoppers’ first chart-topper, “Trying,” and was part of the group for a couple years before becoming musical director at Dot Records.
He made 42 Billboard chart-topping singles, with 36 albums on the Billboard top 200. His popularity soared over seas too, with hits in Germany, Japan, India, Australia, and others. He established the Billy Vaughn Orchestra in 1965.
Unfortunately, many of his works were reportedly destroyed at the famous Universal Studios Hollywood fire in 2008, which lost over 100 thousand master tapes belonging to Universal Musical Group. His son, Richard Smith Vaughn Jr., led the Billy Vaughn Big Band Orchestra and still toured through the mid-2010s.
Billy Vaughn passed away in 1991 and a historic marker dedicated to his musical career sits in Glasgow’s Beulah Nunn Park.