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Billy Vaughn

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Billy Vaughn
Vaughn with Gale Storm on The Gale Storm Show in 1958. He and Storm collaborated to write a song, "You're My Baby Doll", which they performed on the show.
Born(1919-04-12)April 12, 1919
DiedSeptember 26, 1991(1991-09-26) (aged 72)
Occupation(s)Multi-instrumentalist, orchestra leader, record executive, singer
Musical career
Years active1952–1972
LabelsDot, London

William Vaughn, popularly known as Billy Vaughn (born Richard Smith Vaughn, April 12, 1919 – September 26, 1991) was an American musician, singer, multi-instrumentalist, orchestra leader, and A&R man for Dot Records.[1]


Vaughn was born in Glasgow, Kentucky, United States,[2] where his father, Alvis Radford Vaughn, was a barber who loved music and inspired Vaughn 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, including guitar and alto saxophone, his primary 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 to barber 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.[2] 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.[2]

In 1954, he left the group to join Dot Records in Gallatin, Tennessee, as music director.[2] He subsequently formed his own orchestra which had a hit single in that same year with "Melody of Love."[2] It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.[3] He went on to have many more hits over the next decade and a half and was the most commercially 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 and guitar as his 'trademark'. Vaughn was the bandleader, and he played the lead guitar on most of his songs. 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).[2] 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.[4] 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[5]) 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). In addition, Dot Records released a compilation recording of tangos, rumbas and easy listening music featuring both the Billy Vaughn Orchestra and the John Serry Orchestra in Japan. ("Ballroom in Dreamland", DOT 5006)[6][7]

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.[8] 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.[9]

The Billy Vaughn Orchestra, co-owned and managed by his son, Richard Smith Vaughn Jr., is still a touring big band. Produced by the Tate Corporation, Japan, it toured Japan in 2013, 2014, and again in 2018 to sell-out audiences.



Year Title Chart positions
1952 Melodies in Gold
Billy Vaughn Plays the Million Sellers
La Paloma
1959 Golden Saxophones
Billy Vaughn Plays 20
Blue Hawaii 7
Big 100
Billy Vaughn Plays Stephen Foster
1960 Linger Awhile
Billy Vaughn Plays The Million Sellers 15
Golden Saxophones 36
Look for a Star 5
Sail Along, Silv'ry Moon 5
Theme from A Summer Place 1
1961 Golden Waltzes 17
Orange Blossom Special and Wheels 11
Theme from The Sundowners 5
1962 A Swingin' Safari 10
The Shifting Whispering Sands
Berlin Melody 20
Chapel by the Sea 14
Christmas Carols 145
Greatest String Band Hits 18
1963 1962's Greatest Hits 17
Number 1 Hits, Vol. #1 94
Sukiyaki and 11 Hawaiian Hits 15
1964 Another Hit Album! 141
Blue Velvet & 1963's Great Hits 51
Forever 144
1965 Mexican Pearls 45
Moon Over Naples 31
Pearly Shells 18
1965 Great Country Hits 149
Michelle 56
1967 Body & Soul
Alfie 44
Golden Hits/The Best Of Billy Vaughn 159
I Love You 161
Josephine 147
Ode To Billy Joe 200
Sweet Maria 114
That's Life & Pineapple Market 130
1968 Alone With Today
Have Yourself A Merry, Merry Christmas
A Current Set Of Standards 198
1969 The Windmills Of Your Mind 95
1970 Winter World Of Love 188
1991 Plays the Music You Remember


Year Titles (A-side, B-side)
Both sides from same album except where indicated
Chart positions Album
1954 "Melody of Love"
b/w "Joy Ride"
2 1 Sweet Music and Memories
1955 "Silver Moon"
b/w "Baby O'Mine"
"The Waltz You Saved for Me"
b/w "Billy Vaughn's Boogie"
"The Shifting, Whispering Sands" (Part 1)
b/w "The Shifting Whispering Sands" (Part 2)
5 5 20 The Shifting Whispering Sands
"I'd Give a Million Tomorrows (For Just One Yesterday"
b/w "Calico Cathy
Non-album tracks
1956 "Moritat (Mack the Knife)" /[note 1] 37 Theme From "A Summer Place"
"Little Boy Blue" 76 Non-album track
"Theme from the Threepenny Opera"[note 1]
b/w "I'd Give a Million Tomorrows (For Just One Yesterday)" (non-album track)
12 Theme From "A Summer Place"
b/w "Till I Waltz Again with You"
Non-album tracks
"Autumn Concerto"
b/w "Angel, Angel"
"The Left Bank (C'est à Hambourg)"
b/w "The Sweeetheart Polka"
"When the White Lilacs Bloom Again"
b/w "Spanish Diary"
18 16
"Petticoats of Portugal"
b/w "La La Colette"
"Sweet Leilani"
b/w "Creole Love Call"
Blue Hawaii
"Sugar Blues"
b/w "Pennsylvania Waltz"
Non-album tracks
1957 "Ship That Never Sailed"
b/w "Song of the Nairobi Trio"
95 41
"Tell My Love"
b/w "Ve'Borriquito"
"Johnny Tremain"
b/w "Naughty Annetta" (from Sweet Memories and Music)
"Raunchy" / 10 25 Sail Along Silv'ry Moon
"Sail Along, Silv'ry Moon" 5 4
1958 "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" / 30 30
"Trying" 77 Non-album tracks
"Singing Hills"
b/w "Chimes of Arcady"
56 60
"La Paloma"
b/w "Here Is My Love" (non-album track)
20 27 La Paloma
b/w "You're My Baby Doll" (non-album track)
44 36 Billy Vaughn Plays
"Blue Hawaii"
b/w "Tico Tico" (non-album track)
37 33 Blue Hawaii
1959 "Hawaiian War Chant" / 89 51
"Trade Winds" 52
"Your Cheatin' Heart" / 82 74 Non-album tracks
"Lights Out" 100
"Blues Stay Away From Me" / 82
"All Nite Long" 102 94
"Wabash Blues"
b/w "Carnival in Paris" (non-album track)
Golden Saxophones
"(It's No) Sin" / 105 96 A Swingin' Safari
"After Hours" tag Great Golden Hits
1960 "Beg Your Pardon" / 98 Linger Awhile
"Skaters' Waltz" tag Non-album track
"You're the Only Star (In My Blue Heaven)" / 110 118 Linger Awhile
"Chopsticks" 103 tag Non-album tracks
"Dutchman's Gold"
b/w "Back to the Farm"
(Both tracks with Walter Brennan)
"Look for a Star"
b/w "He'll Have to Go"
19 13 Look for a Star
"Old Cape Cod" / 111 102 The Sundowners
"Theme from The Sundowners" 51 38
1961 "Wheels" / 28 111 Orange Blossom Special and Wheels
"Orange Blossom Special" 63 100
"Blue Tomorrow" / 84 60 Berlin Melody
"Red Wing" 112 Non-album tracks
"Down Yonder"
b/w "Born To Be With You" (from A Swingin's Safari)
"Berlin Melody" / 61 55 16 Berlin Melody
"Theme from Come September" 73 55 18
"Everybody's Twisting Down in Mexico"
b/w "Melody in the Night"
119 124 Non-album tracks
1962 "Chapel by the Sea" / 69 107 13 Chapel by the Sea
"One Love, One Heartache" 112 Non-album tracks
"Continental Melody"
b/w "Born to Be with You" (from A Swingin' Safari)
"A Swingin' Safari"
b/w "Indian Love Call" (from Billy Vaughn Plays)
13 11 5 A Swingin' Safari
"Blue Flame" / 107 123
"Someone" 115 tag Non-album tracks
"Down Yonder"
b/w "I'm Waitin'"
1963 "Meditation"
b/w "Release Me" (non-album track)
"Happy Cowboy"
b/w "Broken Doll"
131 131 Non-album tracks
"Theme From A Summer Place"
b/w "Sukiyaki" (from Sukiyaki and 11 Hawaiian Hits)
Theme From "A Summer Place"
"Rag Mop"
b/w "I'm Sorry"
Number 1 Hits, Volume 1
"Cumberland County Feud"
b/w "Chow Chow Amore"
Non-album tracks
1964 "Blue Tango"
b/w "Boss" (non-album track)
The Golden Instrumentals
"Lucky Duck"
b/w "The One Rose (That's Left in My Heart)"
"Chianti Song"
b/w "A Guitar Serenade"
Non-album tracks
b/w "The World I Used to Know"
Another Hit Album!
"Pearly Shells (Popo O Ewa)"
b/w "Maybe"
120 Pearly Shells
"Song of Peace"
b/w "Billy's Theme"
Non-album tracks
1965 "There's a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere"
b/w "In the Ocean of Time"
"Mexican Pearls"
b/w "Woodpecker" (non-album track)
94 79 23 Mexican Pearls
"Making Other Plans"
b/w "Our Dream of Love"
Non-album tracks
"Moon Over Naples"
b/w "Tonight"
Moon Over Naples
"Anniversary Song"
b/w "Please"
1966 "Michelle"
b/w "Elaine"
77 61 17 Michelle
"The Mexican Shuffle"
b/w "Organ Grinder's Swing"
"Things Go Better"
b/w "James (Steady Does It)"
Non-album tracks
"It's Over"
b/w "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind"
"Because They're Young"
b/w "Buckaroo" (non-album track)
Look for a Star
b/w "Somewhere My Love"
"Tiny Bubbles"
b/w "Too Many Hot Tacos" (non-album track)
131 That's Life
1967 "Sweet Maria"
b/w "There Goes My Everything"
105 82 6 Sweet Maria
"Pineapple Market"
b/w "That's Life"
30 That's Life
"I Love You (and You Love Me)"
b/w "Yellow Roses Mean Goodbye"
4 I Love You
1968 "Lolly"
b/w "Moonlight Brings Memories"
As Requested
b/w "St. James Infirmary"
Quietly Wild
1969 "You Win Again"
b/w "No One Will Ever Know"
Nashville Saxophones
"A Mansion on the Hill"
b/w "I've Got You on My Mind Again"
"The Windmills of Your Mind"
b/w "The Way That I Live"
The Windmills Of Your Mind
"True Grit"
b/w "Odds and Ends (Of A Beautiful Love Affair)"
True Grit
1970 "Color It Cool"
b/w "On Days Like These"
b/w "Always Mademoiselle"
Winter World of Love
"Come Saturday Morning"
b/w "True Grit" (from True Grit)
1971 "Look What They've Done to My Song Ma"
b/w "Roof Tops of Tokyo"
Non-album tracks
1972 "Butterfly"
b/w "To the End of This Day" (from I Don't Know How to Love Him)
An Old Fashioned Love Song
  1. ^ a b "Mack the Knife" and "Theme From The Threepenny Opera" are essentially the same song. The difference is that "Mack" was released in the US while "Theme ..." was a UK only release. See Mack the Knife for further information on the evolution of this song.


  1. ^ Gilliland, John (1969). "T-Z – Interview Index" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Colin Larkin, ed. (2002). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Fifties Music (Third ed.). Virgin Books. pp. 466/7. ISBN 1-85227-937-0.
  3. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 77. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  4. ^ Billboard hits of the world, various issues 1961
  5. ^ Billboard Hits of the World, 1960s
  6. ^ Album: Ballroom in Dreamland featuring music by the Billy Vaughn Orchestra and the John Serry Orchestra on discogs.com
  7. ^ Ballroom in Dreamland - Audio album featuring performances by the Billy Vaughn Orchestra and John Serry on cdandlp.com
  8. ^ Meeks, Eric G. (2012). Palm Springs Celebrity Homes: Little Tuscany, Racquet Club, Racquet Club Estates and Desert Park Estates Neighborhoods (Kindle). Horatio Limburger Oglethorpe. p. location number 323. ASIN B00A2PXD1G.
  9. ^ Wilson, Scott (August 19, 2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed. McFarland. p. 773. ISBN 9781476625997 – via Google Books.

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