WKU congratulates The Hilltoppers on being inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, Class of 2013
About The Hilltoppers
In April 1952, Billy Vaughn, local musician and WKU alumnus, asked three WKU students to help him record one of his compositions. Jimmy Sacca, Don McGuire and Seymour Spiegelman joined Vaughn at Van Meter Auditorium, where they paid a campus security guard $10 for access to the facility and then recorded Trying using a piano and a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder. This was done with the help of football player Bill Ploumis, who lay on the floor and lifted the piano pedal whenever it stuck.
When local WLBJ deejay Bill Stamps played Trying on his evening radio program Whistling In The Dark, his listeners requested the song 15 times.
As a former employee of Dot Records, Stamps convinced music executive Randy Wood to listen to the record. Wood then brought a professional recording crew to Van Meter Auditorium where they worked for six hours to get the right take. Once captured, the flip side You Made Up My Mind was recorded in only 30 minutes.
Trying was released May 25, 1952, but it did not sell well at first. As Wood assembled The Hilltoppers to break the news that their musical career would be brief, a Cincinnati distributor called to request 1,000 copies of the record as soon as possible. On August 16th, Trying was on Billboard's charts!
Distributed by Dot Records of Gallatin, Tennessee, Trying reached No. 7 on Billboard's best selling pop records list. Much success soon followed. On October 26, 1952 The Hilltoppers appeared on Ed Sullivan's nationally syndicated CBS television show, Toast of the Town. The Juke Box Operators of America voted The Hilltoppers the best vocal combination of 1953 in a Cash Box magazine poll.
The Hilltoppers now faced the difficult task of balancing college course work and sudden fame. While still students, they performed on eight nationally syndicated television programs and flew to countless weekend engagements in cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Boston, St. Louis, and New York. For three of the boys, the collegiate attire of beanies, letter sweaters, gray flannels and white bucks was more than just a gimmick; missing performances due to scheduled exams was a necessary part of their dual lives.
In March 1954, P.S. I Love You became their first gold record. Two years later, Only You stayed on the British Best Selling Pop Records list from January to June 1956, paving the way for The Hilltoppers' ten-week tour of England that summer.
Leaving their mark
From 1952 to 1957, The Hilltoppers charted 19 hits on Billboard, half in the top 10. In the late 1950s, The Hilltoppers expanded their repertoire of love ballads with the calypso hit Marianne and an original rhythm and blues number called The Joker. Another style of music, however, was gaining national popularity. The November/December 1957 issue of the fan club newsletter Hilltoppers Topics included a round-table discussion of Rock and Roll, which Seymour found "unimaginative and repetitive."
The Hilltoppers managed their careers around military service for three of the four vocalists, canning music for release while Sacca was in the South Pacific and recruiting others to tour in McGuire and Spiegelman's place. Having given the group their start, Billy Vaughn turned his attention to his career as a composer and orchestra conductor with Eddie Crowe and later Doug Cordoza serving as his replacements.
Successful quartets not only recorded popular tunes, but they sang whenever given the opportunity, be it a national television guest appearance, a night club engagement, a radio deejays' program, a state fair or a store grand opening. Throughout the 1950s, The Hilltoppers kept a teenage and college following but were also a big draw for popular nightclubs like the Casa Loma in St. Louis, the Castle Farms Ballroom in Cincinnati and the Emerald Room in Houston. Tours abroad to Great Britain (1956), Germany, France & England (1958) and the South Pacific (1959) brought them international recognition.
Still best known for P.S. I Love You, which sold over 3 million copies, The Hilltoppers secured fame for themselves and their alma mater. From Van Meter Auditorium to stages around the world, Jimmy Sacca, Don McGuire, Seymour Spiegelman, and Billy Vaughn promoted a clean-cut image of 1950s college life and romantic love. Their music is time-dated, yet timeless. From its beginning at WKU, The Hilltoppers' music will forever exemplify the sounds of a wonderful period in American music. WKU salutes The Hilltoppers for having enhanced America's rich musical tradition.
- #7 Best Selling Pops Singles, November 1 ,1952
- #9 Most Played Juke Box Records, November 15, 22, 29, 1952
- #10 Records Most Played by DJs, November 15, 1952
August 16, 1952
UA36I/27 Carlton Jackson Faculty/Staff Personal Papers - collection inventory
UA94/6/2/1 Hilltoppers Quartet Collection - collection inventory
Courtesy of WKU Archives