The Lettermen to be at the Brock Jan. 19

Published 10:07 am Thursday, January 10, 2019

On Saturday, Jan. 19, Davie County Arts Council will host a concert by The Lettermen at the Brock Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m.

The Lettermen are  Tony Butala, Donavan Tea, and Bobby Poynton.

Tony Butala, original and founding member, would have made one change in the 50-plus year career.

“We chose the wrong name. In the late 50s, when you started a vocal group and wanted to stand out, all you had to do was use a novel new name that would give your group a unique look and image. If you are a new group in today’s world and you want to get noticed, you have to dye your hair purple or pink, multi-pierce your face, ears and tongue, and even then you may not be different enough to get any notoriety.

“We chose the name The Lettermen and wore letter sweaters. By the time those names started to become passé in the early 60s, The Lettermen had a few hit single records and albums, and had become a phenomenal success in colleges and nightclubs. Capitol Records was reluctant to market a new name as The Lettermen wanted.”

The Lettermen name first appeared in February 1958 on the marquee of the Desert Inn Hotel Resort Showroom in Las Vegas, Nev., where Butala, Mike Barnett and Talmadge Russell performed in the record-shattering revue, “Newcomers of 1928.” Butala played the part of Bing Crosby.

Butala began singing professionally at age 7 in Sharon, Pa. and by the age of 8 was singing on KDKA Radio in Pittsburgh. He moved to Hollywood and became a member of the Mitchell Boys Choir.

By 1960, The Lettermen – now Butala, Jim Pike and Bob Engemann – were signed to Warner Brothers Records and released their first singles: “Their Hearts Were Full of Spring” b/w “When” and “The Magic Sound” b/w “Two Hearts.” In 1961, Nic Venet with Capitol Records who earlier had written a few songs with Butala, was played these first recordings. Venet was impressed by the unique natural close harmonic blend and convinced that he could produce a hit, signed them to what turned out to be an over 25-year contract with Capitol Records.

For The Lettermen’s debut single in the summer of 1961, Capitol Records decided to put a romantic ballad on the B-side of “That’s My Desire,” which was an attempt at a doo-wop single, figuring disc jockeys would have to play the A-side because the B-side was so sweet, and slow, and did not encompass the commercial sound of the day.

That B-side was “The Way You Look Tonight.”. It was a departure from the rock ‘n’ roll music of the day and listener requests made it a must for disc jockeys. The song shot to No. 13 on the Billboard chart. The group’s second single that year, “When I Fall In Love,” another soft, slow ballad hit No. 7, establishing The Lettermen as the most romantic singing group of the 60s.

The next year, their first original song written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill “Come Back Silly Girl” reached No. 17 and The Lettermen’s debut album, “A Song for Young Love,” hit the Top 10, their first of 32 straight Top 40 hit albums.

Butala’s breathy vocals were the lead on most of the records, except “Theme From A Summer Place”. In almost every poll, The Lettermen were named Best New Group or Best Vocal Group as two more albums followed in 1962 – “Once Upon A Time” and “Jim, Tony and Bob”, the latter an effort to segue away from The Lettermen name.

The 60s and early 70s saw The Lettermen score more than 25 hit singles, including “Theme From ‘A Summer Place” No. 16 in 1965 from the Sandra Dee/Troy Donahue film, “Goin’ Out of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” No .7, in 1968, the first hit ever to completely integrate two songs as one and then “Hurt So Bad” No. 12, in 1969.

The Lettermen signature sound made romantic hit standards of love songs such as “Smile,” “Put Your Head On My Shoulder,” “Shangri-La,” “Love,” “Traces/Memories” and on and on.

Among the 32 consecutive albums, which charted in the Top 100 in the United States, four were certified gold: “The Lettermen!!!…And “Live” (1967), “Goin’ Out of My Head” (1968), “Best of The Lettermen” (1969) and “Hurt So Bad”(1970).

During this same time, The Lettermen toured with George Burns, Jack Benny, Bob Hope and Bill Cosby; performed on bills with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Jimmy Durante, Debbie Reynolds, Sam Cooke, and Sammy Davis Jr.; appeared on “the Johnny Carson television show,” several times on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” were regulars on “The Red Skelton Show” and “The Hollywood Palace.”

Butala estimates the group made some 200 appearances on television shows such as Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” series, “Shindig”, and “Hullabaloo”, were interviewed and performed on TV shows with Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, Jack Paar, Milton Berle, Steve Allen, Dinah Shore, and many others throughout the 60s and 70s, cultivating new crops of fans.

The Lettermen enjoyed international success touring Japan, The Philippines, China, Thailand, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Germany, France, South America, Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia. They sang and recorded in over 14 languages and have received 18 gold records internationally.

The Lettermen have appeared in most of the major sports arenas in the United States by singing their a-cappella rendition of the “National Anthem.” People Magazine honored their version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by voting the group “one of the best anthem-singing groups in sports.

Tickets are available three ways: online at; 336-751-3000; or visit to the Brock’s Box Office Monday-Friday noon-5 p.m.