WKU music group inducted into Kentucky Music Hall of Fame

Christian Marnon

Three former WKU students joined the likes of Dwight Yoakam, Loretta Lynn and Patty Loveless in the Kentucky Hall of Fame last Friday after an induction ceremony at the Bluegrass Ballroom in Lexington.

This student trio, who would later become a quartet with the addition of pianist Ed Crowe, constituted The Hilltoppers, an all-male vocal group who produced multiple chart-topping hits from 1952 to 1957. During that timeframe, the group charted 19 singles on Billboard, half of which were in the top ten.

Jimmy Sacca, lead, Seymour Spiegelman, tenor, and Don McGuire, bass, made their first recording of “Trying” with a piano and a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder in Van Meter Auditorium.

When “Trying” first hit the airwaves on local WLBJ deejay Bill Stamp’s program “Whistling in the Dark,” the song was requested 15 times.

Robert Lawson, executive director of the Hall of Fame board, said The Hilltoppers were an international success.

“The Hilltoppers, in the 50s, were one of the top bands in the world,” he said. “Their contributions and the hits they made at the time were phenomenal.”

Lawson said The Hilltoppers also performed on the Ed Sullivan show frequently.

“They had so many singles, and when you’re talking A and B side records, the B side was always just as good as the As,” he said.

During the induction ceremony, The RedShirts, WKU’s all-male a cappella group bridged the generational gap with a tribute performance to The Hilltoppers.

Princeton senior John Logan Wood, music director of The RedShirts, said they performed multiple covers of The Hilltoppers hits including “Trying,” “In the Still of the Night” and “P.S I Love You.”

The RedShirts even wore custom sweaters emblazoned with large Ws, which was the wardrobe staple of The Hilltoppers.

Wood said the performance was ultimately a surprise for Jimmy Sacca and Don McGuire, the two living members of The Hilltoppers, who attended the induction.

“They didn’t know we were coming, but they soon saw the sweaters and recognized the surprise,” he said. “Jimmy Sacca came up to us in his wheelchair and started singing the WKU fight song.”

Wood said Sacca also helped conduct The RedShirts through a rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” near the end of their performance.

Lawson said he was blown away by The RedShirts’ performance.

“They knocked it out of the park — the vocals were unbelievable,” he said. “They did a fine job not only representing WKU, but by also trying to carry on the legacy of The Hilltoppers.”’

President Gary Ransdell was in attendance at the induction ceremony, and said it was a great honor for The Hilltoppers. He also said The RedShirts “stole the show” with their performance.

He said normally, groups who are inducted perform.

“But The RedShirts, because The Hilltoppers couldn’t perform, performed on their behalf and they were great,” he said. “They brought the house down; they were really well received.”

Wood said the legacy of The Hilltoppers provides The RedShirts with the incentive to always strive for improvement.

“We’re proud to have some sort of a connection to a male group from WKU,” he said. “It keeps us from being mediocre.”