November 1, 2004 by

Vaughn Meader


Categories: Musicians

vmeader.jpgAbbott Vaughn Meader’s career skyrocketed during John F. Kennedy’s tenure in the White House — and ended the moment the president was assassinated in Dallas.
Meader was Camelot’s court jester, known for gently poking fun at the Kennedys on the 1962 album “The First Family.” The album was the fastest-selling record of its time. It sold 7.5 million copies and won the Grammy for album of the year and best comedy performance. The president even purchased 100 copies of the recording, and gave them away as Christmas presents.
As a young man, Meader served in the U.S. Army then moved to New York to launch a stand-up comedy career. A singer, comic and piano player, he began adding impersonations of the president to his act and soon landed a job playing Kennedy on “The First Family.” His dead-on impressions of JFK led to appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and sold-out engagements in Las Vegas.
After Kennedy’s death, all of Meader’s shows were canceled. Stores pulled the comedy album off the shelves and friends stopped returning his phone calls. In 1964, he released “Have Some Nuts,” a comedic record that had no Kennedy references. It didn’t sell well.
Meader soon returned to his birth name, Abbott, and joined the counterculture movement. He became an alcoholic and a drug addict, but still attempted to work in show business. In 1971, Meader recorded the comedy album “The Second Coming.” His impression of Jesus on a visit to Harlem earned critical acclaim, however, radio stations felt the material was sacrilegious and gave the album little air time.
In recent years, Meader managed a pub in Hallowell, Me., and played bluegrass and country music in area honky-tonk bars. He died on Oct. 29 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at the age of 68.

12 Responses to Vaughn Meader

  1. Dennis Rayburn

    Vaughn’s impersonation of JFK was so dead on, it was uncanny, althought JFK is quoted to have said that he sounded more like Teddy.

  2. Paul McCarthy

    In 1962, I was only 12 and performed the First Family Album for my 8th grade class. My teacher was from Boston, and would not let me do it until she heard my impression. I have sinced prefromed on Carnival Cruise Lines and at private parties doing various impressions (200) entertaining people. Vaughn Meader was one of my childhood idles and a reason I continue to do impressions today

  3. Keith R. Wood

    I grew up listening to the First Family album (and learned about Weltpolitik in order to figure out the Businessman’s Lunch skit). The album is still hilarious, even today. That can’t be said about most political humor.

  4. EMILE

    In the 70s i lived next door to Vaughn on Canabas Ave [n Waterville.what a wild and crazy guy, Best Honky Tonk Piano i ever heard! R I P friend and neighbor.

  5. greta

    nearly a year has passed since abbott left here,
    there is bunny grass growing in wtvl..
    and there is still a wonderful circle of people,,,
    friends, family that gather in his honor?.. but none of us question the the fact that he coloured our lives with fact, fancy, and friends that will outlast anything the floods left behind. Mount Gay, coke, and a lime floating on the bottom.. this one is for you honey,,,
    …g…., thank-YOU…

  6. Bill

    As a small child our landlord and local grocer took a liking to me. He thought I was funny. To encourage me (like I needed any help) he bought me comedy albums. After two Bill Crosby ablums I got a Vaughn Meader, Have some Nuts. I have been nutty ever since. During my 20’s I took a stab at stand-up it was a good run. Now I teach History to middle school students. Sometimes, without meaning to, a little of the biting wit I memorized as a small boy enters the classroom.

  7. Kathleen

    What gets me is, Jack Kennedy didn’t have a problem with Vaughn impersonating him; even bought “First Family” albums and gave them to friends at Christmas. Without naming names, wonder what the reaction would be if a present-day Vaughn tried even such innocuous humor pertaining to the next wanna-be American political dynasty.

  8. Brian

    I still have a vinyl copy of “The Second Coming.” I’m a born-again Christian and don’t find it sacreligious; it’s the kind of gentle humor often used in church youth groups today to get a point across. Sweet album, actually; sorry to know Meader had such a sad life after Kennedy died, I’d often wondered about his subsequent obscurity.

  9. Dave

    It should also be remembered that Vaughn Meader had a brief on-screen comeback as Walter Winchell in the 1975 movie, “Lepke.” His Winchell impression was right on the money, and he was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise forgettable film.

  10. Erich

    I got my first LP at the age of 10. It was “Meet the Beatles”. My musical tastes didn’t expand for a couple or three years. Instead I leaned toward comedy albums. Bill Cosby, Alan Sherman and the Smothers Brothers (long before they made it to TV) were my favorites. As I got older my tastes had changed to something more irreverent. I took up with the likes of George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Redd Foxx. By the time I enlisted in the Air Force in ’71 I was embracing the drug culture with Cheech & Chong, Firesign Theatre, and others. Then around ’73 or ’74 a friend introduced me to Vaughn’s Second Coming LP. I ws blown away! I tried and failed to find it for myself on vinyl. And more recently I have modified my search to CDs. With some luck I hope to complete my quest.
    To Vaughn and all the others wherever you are: Thanks for the laughs!

  11. Stephen Raulston

    My sister and I would listen to Vaughn’s “The First Family” album for hours on end. We were but children (7 and 4) but I fondly remember the wonderful laughter shared between us and then making our own feeble attempts at comedy.

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