Jim Pike, 82, Co-Founder and Lead Singer of the Lettermen, Is Dead

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Jim Pike, a co-founder and the lead singer of the Lettermen, a trio whose lush vocal harmonies made them one of the most popular vocal groups of the 1960s, died on June 9 at his home in Prescott, Ariz. He was 82.

His sister-in-law Becky Pike confirmed the death to The Associated Press on Wednesday. The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease.

Mr. Pike and Bob Engemann, a college friend from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, formed the Lettermen in Los Angeles in 1961 with a fellow singer, Tony Butala.

They were looking for a name that would resonate with young people when Mr. Engemann suggested the Lettermen, Mr. Pike’s younger brother, Gary, said on Wednesday. Mr. Butala had briefly sung with a group known as the Lettermen and got its leader’s permission to use the name, Gary Pike said.

The trio had its first hit that year with “The Way You Look Tonight,” which peaked at No. 13 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and brought two Grammy Award nominations for the group, as best new artist (Peter Nero won the award) and best vocal group (Lambert, Hendricks and Ross won).

The Lettermen toured constantly, playing colleges across the country and in other venues around the world at a time when a raft of clean-cut male vocal groups — among them the Kingston Trio, the Four Freshmen and the Brothers Four — were enjoying huge popularity singing folk and pop ballads in close harmony.

Onstage, the Lettermen would often wear white shirts and ties under matching lettermen cardigan sweaters emblazoned with the letter L.

The relentless touring wore out Mr. Pike’s voice, however, and he left the group in 1973, replaced by his youngest brother, Donny. Gary Pike had replaced Mr. Engemann in 1967.

After regaining his voice Mr. Pike and Mr. Engemann formed a group called The Reunion.

The Lettermen, with Mr. Butala as the only surviving founding member, continues to tour. Mr. Engemann died in 2013.

James R. Pike was born on Nov. 6, 1936, in Missouri, a son of Russ and Joy Pike. His father was a country and western singer who performed throughout the Midwest and on radio with his wife and two brothers in a group called Russ Pike’s Prairie Knights.

Jim spent his boyhood years in Oklahoma and briefly in Beverly Hills, Calif., after his father had been invited there by Hollywood talent scouts to perform as a singing cowboy in B-movie westerns — a role his father found not to his liking, Mr. Pike wrote in a memoir, “My Lettermen Years” (2012, with E. L. Scott).

The family later moved to Idaho, where his father worked for a cattle rancher while continuing to perform. Jim graduated from Idaho Falls High School, where he sang in the choir. His parents were divorced in Idaho.

He then joined the Navy to take advantage of the G.I. Bill and was stationed in San Diego before enrolling at Brigham Young, where his singing career began.

He is survived by his brothers; his wife, Susan; and his daughter, Kelly Pike.


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