Throwback Thursday – The Singing Hilltoppers

Bowling Green and southern Kentucky have a rich music history. Adding another story to these tales, this week Throwback Thursday shares more on the Hilltoppers, the 1950s pop band that hit the airwaves as top ten on the charts and made its television debut on the most popular variety show of the decade.

It was 1952. Three Western Kentucky State College students liked singing at The Goal Posts, the campus hang out and candy store. Jimmy Sacca, Seymour Spiegelman, and Don McGuire had a barbershop trio sound. Billy Vaughn, another student and friend of Sacca, played piano and wrote music for the Ace Dinning Band.

Vaughn wrote a new song he felt would be perfect for Sacca’s voice. Recorded by the group and called “Trying,” the song was popular on Bowling Green’s local radio station WLBJ, and was sent to Dot Records. It was a hit within four months and climbed to number seven on the U.S. pop charts. The group got a call from The Ed Sullivan Show, requesting they come to New York for a live on-air singing appearance. The group wore their Western sweaters, gray pants, white buckle shoes and beanies—and this became their performance look for the rest of the decade.

The group released over 20 more songs over the next five years. The group members changed over the course of time, as Uncle Sam called one or a couple of the guys off to war in Korea, and their spots had to be filled. The group’s barbershop sound was hot until the rock ’n roll sound took over the pop charts around 1960.

Billy Vaughn continued to have the most success, as a writer and producer at Dot Records into the 1970s. The group appeared together at WKU homecomings and celebrations of its musical anniversaries. The Alumni Center at WKU currently has a mini museum display of famous memorabilia, including a singing Hilltopper sweater.