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THE LETTERMEN BIOGRAPHY
They did pack away the sweaters, and fortunately,
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While with The Young Americans, he guest-starred on NBC's holiday special "Merry Christmas, Fred, From The Crosbys," performing a tap dance with Fred Astaire and singing backup for Bing Crosby on "White Christmas."
At 22, Tea became a solo act performing in nightclubs and on cruise ships before he was featured in two main showroom extravaganzas at The Dunes and Stardust hotels in Las Vegas. It was during this time when he first crossed paths with The Lettermen. He became
Donovan's most favorite things in life are his wife Darla, his children Landry and Lawson, and working his cattle ranch in North Central Tennessee.
Mark eventually moved to Los Angeles, California, got a job singing at the prestigious nightclub "The Horn" where he shared the bill with another vocalist Donovan Scott Tea. They formed a friendship that continues to the present day.
After an appearance on the "Dinah Shore Television Show", Mark was called to Las Vegas, Reno and Lake Tahoe, where he worked as a featured soloist at many major showrooms. Variety Magazine named him one of the finest entertainers in show business. He did many shows with Phyllis Diller, and as an actor/singer, made several appearances on the hit television series "Vegas$" as well as being the photo double and stand-in for the show's star Robert Urich. He went on to do guest appearances on several network specials. He co-hosted numerous weeks on "Braun & Company", a syndicated variety show originating from Cincinnati, Ohio. It was on this show that he met The Lettermen when they made a guest appearance. Tony Butala was so impressed with Mark and his voice that he mentioned if a vacancy should happen in The Lettermen, he would want Mark to fill the vacancy. In a matter of one year a double vacancy occurred and Mark, along with his best friend Donovan Tea, who he recommended to Tony, joined The Lettermen for their first show on the same day - September 4, 1984. During his four year tenure with The Lettermen, he, Donovan and Tony recorded a Christmas Video and album titled "It Feels Like Christmas", and the "Why I Love Her" album.
Mark left The Lettermen for a while to pursue a highly successful career as one of the all-time major cruise ship star entertainment attractions.
He is now back with The Lettermen - going full steam ahead. When not performing, Mark enjoys a good game of golf, a cold beer, Notre Dame football and relaxing at his home in Central Pennsylvania with his lovely wife Michelle.
The Lettermen of Past and Present
Performing at The Vocal Group Hall of Fame
L to R. Donovan Tea, Donny Pike,
Mark Preston, Jim Pike, Tony Butala,
Bob Engman, Gary Pike, and Darren Dowler.
The Lettermen have also enjoyed international success touring Japan, Philippines, China, Thailand, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Germany, France, South America, Canada, Mexico and even Saudi Arabia.
They have sung and recorded in over fourteen languages and have received eighteen gold records internationally.
Their All-American, clean-cut, no-drugs image may have been a rawback in the hard rock era but The Lettermen stood by it. Says Butala, "I never thought people who did drugs were hip".
Even as the British Invasion dimmed American artist record sales in the 60's, television and concert appearances sustained The Lettermen career. The group has been a rarity that can perform from small college campuses to the posh Empire Room at The Waldorf Astoria in New York City; from the Iowa State Fair to main showrooms in Las Vegas, Nevada; from U.S.O. shows in the jungles of Thailand and Combodia to elegant concert halls with the world's most renowned symphony orchestras.
"Our one rule," says Butala, "is to never dress below the level of your audience. The Lettermen stage wardrobe is comprised of denim eans for outdoor festivals and fairs, casual dress for colleges, tuxedos for hotels and glitzier garb for the casino showrooms."
The Lettermen have also appeared in most of the major sports renas in the U.S. with their touching 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."
They have continually recorded, averaging at least one album
a year. They formed their own Alpha Omega Records in 1979. Some of their newer CD albums, now numbering over 70, are:
"The Lettermen – Why I Love Her", "The Lettermen – Live In The Philippines", and their newest holiday CD "The Most Wonderful
Over its 47 years, the trio has gone through a few personnel changes. Engemann left in 1967, replaced by Gary Pike, Jim Pike's younger brother. A few years later, due to vocal problems, Jim left the group and was replaced by his even younger brother, Donny Pike. The group stayed stable, with this combination all through the seventies and early eighties lead by the constant member Tony Butala. Since then, Mark Preston, Ernie Pontiere, Bobby Poynton, Don Campeau, and Chad Nichols have each had stints as members of The Lettermen.
Artist: The Lettermen
Album: Best Of Broadway
The Letterment Display at
The Vocal Group Hall of Fame.
The Lettermen name first appeared in February
Butala played the part of Bing Crosby, who sang lead in the Rhythm Boys the vocal group that had hits and toured in the 1920's with Paul Whiteman's Orchestra.
The vision for The Lettermen was of three very strong soloists who also had the ability and showmanship to perform and entertain an audience, but who also had the discipline needed to be group singers. The sound they came up with was a sound between the big band vocal groups such as the Modernaires, Pied Pipers and Mills Brothers, and the early R&B rock groups such as the Flamingos and the Platters.
Butala began singing professionally at age seven
In the mid-fifties, while still in high school in Hollywood, Butala formed The Fourmost, a vocal group of three ex-Mitchell Boy Choir friends and
By 1960, The Lettermen - now Butala, Jim Pike (whose falsetto pre-dated Frankie Valli and the
Their debut Capitol single record in the summer of 1961, Capitol Records decided to put a ballad on the B-side of "That's My Desire," their doo-wop single, figuring DJs would have to play the A-side because the B-side was so slow, and did not necessarily possess the commercial sound of the day.
That B-side was "The Way You Look Tonight."
Soft, melodic and romantic, it was a departure
from the rock 'n' roll of the day and listener requests made
Butala's breathy vocals were the lead on most of The Lettermen many hit 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 '60's and early '70's saw The Lettermen
score over 25 chart hit singles, including "Theme From
'A Summer Place" (No. 16, 1965, from the Sandra Dee/Troy Donahue film), "Goin' Out of My Head/Can't Take My Eyes Off You" (No. 7, 1968,
Their signature sound made romantic standards
Among those 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).
At the 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 several times on television's "The Ed Sullivan Show," and were regulars on "The Red Skelton Show" and "The Hollywood Palace."
Butala estimates that the group made some 200 appearances on television shows such as Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" series, were interviewed and performed on talk shows and variety shows with Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, Jack Paar, Milton Berle, Steve Allen Dinah Shore, and many others throughout the 60's and 70's, cultivating new crops of fans.
Artist: The Lettermen
Artist: The Lettermen
Style: Lettermen Live
© 1996 The Vocal Group Hall Of Fame
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