Billy Vaughn (April 12, 1919 - September 26, 1991) was an orchestra leader, multi-instrumentalist, singer, composer, arranger, and A&R man who became famous beginning in the early 1950s. His long string of instrumental hits through the late 1960s included easy listening arrangements of various traditional pop, rock, R&B, and country standards, and he was the most popular orchestra leader during the beginning of the rock & roll era. Vaughn's cover of the Bert Kaempfert-penned "A Swingin' Safari" (1962), a jazzy, South African kwela-styled song with the main melody performed on a tin whistle, was famously used from 1962-1967 as the theme to NBC TV's long-running "Match Game."
Born William Richard Vaughn in Glasgow, Kentucky, he started playing the mandolin at age three and later studied the piano and several other instruments. He began his career while serving in World War II as a musician and composer at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. After the war ended, he attended Western Kentucky State College (now Western Kentucky University) on the GI Bill, majoring in music composition. As a student, Vaughn became a member of The Hilltoppers, a newly-formed vocal trio made up of three other students at Western Kentucky State, serving as the group's pianist. They had their first of many hits in 1952 with the Vaughn-penned "Trying," which made the Pop charts Top 10. In 1954, he left The Hilltoppers to join Dot Records as music director and formed his own orchestra.
Billy Vaughn & His Orchestra hit the ground running in 1954 with "Melody Of Love," which reached #2 on the Pop charts and soon after went gold. He had a second gold record in 1957 with "Sail Along Silvery Moon" (1957), a cover of a 1937 Bing Crosby hit which made the U.S. Top 5 and topped the charts in Canada, Germany, and Norway. Vaughn's other greatest hits included "The Shifting Whispering Sands (Parts 1 & 2)" (1955), "A Theme From 'Moritat' (The Three Penny Opera)" (1956), "When The White Lilacs Bloom Again" (1956), "Raunchy" (1957), "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" (1958), "La Paloma" (1958), "Blue Hawaii" (1958), "Look For A Star" (1960), "Wheels" (1961), and "A Swingin' Safari" (1962). Vaughn's cover of "Pearly Shells (Popo O Ewa)" became a big hit in Japan, and he had several other songs that also became major hits outside of the U.S. and earned him a large international following. His final charting song in the U.S. came in 1967 with "I Love You (And You Love Me)" (billed as The Billy Vaughn Singers), which became an Adult Contemporary Top 5 hit. A prolific recording artist, Billy Vaughn also charted 36 albums on the Billboard 200 through 1970.
- The New York Times remembers orchestra leader Billy Vaughn.
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Billy Vaughn And His Orchestra
- A Swingin' Safari 1962
(This instrumental song was used as the theme for the Match Game in the 1960s.)
- Wheels 1961
(This instrumental song also became a hit for the String-A-Longs (1961, instrumental version).)
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