The Lettermen at the return to Palace Theatre for romantic afternoon
The Lettermen’s lineup has undergone significant changes over the years, with new faces replacing familiar ones as members of the pop vocal trio left for new opportunities and new guys came on board.
Their trademark lettermen sweaters — once the symbol of their all-American cool signature style — eventually were replaced, too, by a stage wardrobe that called for casual dress for college audiences, tuxes for hotel supper clubs and glitzy Hollywood looks for Las Vegas casinos.
One thing that has remained a constant with The Lettermen — old and new — is their ability to harmonize.
Tony Butala, the only original member of the group, says the current trio, with Donovan Tea and Bobby Poynton, “is the best combination of voices and best sounding group since the original trio.”
Time for Tea
The Lettermen, who last performed a year ago at the Palace Theatre, Greensburg, will be back for another show at 3 p.m. May 19.
Butala, originally from Sharon, Mercer County, has been the lead singer of The Lettermen since 1958. Tea joined the group in 1984 and Bobby Poynton became a member in 1988.
Tea recalls how he came to join the Lettermen.
“In 1979 and 1980, I was performing on the Las Vegas Strip in the main room at the Dunes Casino Hotel, now the Bellagio,” he says. “The Lettermen were performing across the street at the Flamingo. When they came to my show, they came to see all the beautiful girls in my show and saw me quite by accident. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know they were in the audience.”
It wasn’t until four years later, when Tea was working at the Stardust hotel, that he received a message from Butala asking to give him a call. After talking for a few minutes, he asked if Tea could come to L.A. and sing with him and another “new guy” named Mark Preston.
“I went the next day, and we sang together,” Tea says. “Tony thought the three of us blended well and offered me the job.”
Joining the group was a pivotal move for Tea, who was lead singer for The Young Americans in the early 70s. He considers it a privilege to sing all the Lettermen famous songs, which include their romantic hits, such as “The Way You Look Tonight, “When I Fall in Love,” “Goin’ Out of My Head” and “Put Your Head on My Shoulder.”
“These are the songs people fell in love to,” Tea says. “When we sing these songs, I love to look out into the audience to see people’s faces, to watch them reach over and take the hand of their wife or husband. You can see in their eyes that they are remembering a special time, a shared moment, a first kiss. It’s a wonderful sight to see, and it never gets old.”
Even the Lettermen’s letter sweaters may make an appearance at the Palace Theatre show, according to the singer.
“We want everyone to know that, even though the letter sweaters went away after the first couple of albums, we bring them out for a brief appearance in every show,” Tea says. “We love putting them on, and they’re always a crowd pleaser.”
Walk of Fame honorees
The Lettermen join recording artists Michael Buble, Faith Hill, Pink, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and more as honorees for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Walk of Fame Class of 2019.
“We’re all very honored and look forward to our induction ceremony, which is slated for spring 2020,” Tea says.
The Lettermen have had 18 Gold Albums worldwide and more than $25 million in record sales, in addition to five Grammy Award nominations.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.