SONG OF THE OPEN ROAD: The Story of the Southern California Youth Chorale
Terry William Hamilton – Toured four times, 1968, 1971-1973 to Germany (2), France, England (2), Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Holland (2), Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, Hong Kong, the Republic of China-Taiwan, Wales, and Russia. Terry got the lead in his high school production of Damn Yankees over another SCYC member but there were no hard feelings. After getting his Masters in Educational Management at the University of La Verne, Terry became an elementary school teacher. In addition, he was one of the early members of the Log Cabin Republicans who, successfully got “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ruled unconstitutional and started the ball rolling toward gay marriage and equality legislation. He is the Historian and Curator of SCYC/Musical Americans. Terry is also the Social Media Administrator of the Pacific Electric Railway Historical Society and of the Mount Lowe Preservation Society. He is married to John Ruble whom he met in 1971!
K. Gene Simmonds – Toured all twelve times, 1965-1978, as the Founder Director of the Southern California Youth Chorale. He moved from Anderson, Indiana to study and graduate from USC in Music. His talents were not only with piano and voice but he also played the marimba. After deciding not to pursue a professional career with that instrument, he became a Music Teacher at Arroyo High school and later a Professor at Rio Hondo College. After extensive traveling on his sabbatical, he returned determined to find a way to get his students interested in travel and learning about the world. His solution was to start an Honor Choir under his own leadership, to show his students the world and show the world what American teenagers were capable of. He changed the lives of over nine hundred young people in ways they would never have imagined. To that, we salute our fearless leader!
Doug Griffin – Toured three times, 1974-1976 to Japan (2), South Korea, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Columbia. Born in Denver, Colorado, Doug’s family moved to Los Angeles to take charge of Good Shepherd Missionary Baptist Church, where Doug grew into a talented musician. He became featured in Drama and Music at Westchester High School where his Choral Teacher, Robert Wood, was an associate of Gene’s and was able to send many talented students to him for the group. After graduating from UCLA, Doug joined “The Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers”, a group started by another associate of Gene’s, and Doug has continued to tour the world with them. He was able to go back and become the Music Director at Westchester after Mr. Wood retired and then moved on to St. Bernard’s Catholic High School. He currently works as the Director of Story Development for Director Tim Story’s company.
Vicki Rhodes – Toured two times, 1976 and 1978 to Japan and South Korea twice. Vicki was born and raised in Los Angeles, California after her family moved here from Dallas, Texas. She also graduated from Westchester High School, where she and Doug were like brother and sister. Hearing about his adventures and longing to travel as well, she auditioned while at USC and joined the group in time for the Bicentennial Tour. When the 1978 group was cut down to 28 from the usual 60+ performers, she re-auditioned and got in again. When the group tried to turn professional and cut down to 12 people, she auditioned again and was accepted. Unfortunately, because of unforeseen hardships, that group never toured and The Musical Americans was disbanded. After graduation, Vicki became an Assistant Director in Film and Television and has been on distant location all over the United States in California, Texas, Arizona, Kansas, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia (3), Massachusetts (2) and Rhode Island.
Robin Hall-Whitmore – Toured two times, 1972 and 1974, to Japan (2), Hong Kong, Republic of China-Taiwan. After moving to California, from West Virginia, she studied Music at California State University at Northridge. With her bright and bubbly personality, she was chosen to be interviewed on the Japan Morning Show in 1972, during her first tour. Being in the group was what she needed to start her professional music career. She performed with “Kids of the Kingdom” at Disneyland for years and sang backup vocals for Perry Como while he toured the United States. She continues as a professional singer to this day and she also performs in a close harmony group called “The New Chordettes”.
Jeffrey Osser – Toured once, 1976 to Japan and South Korea, the first time the group toured that country, bringing the United States Bicentennial Celebration to Asia. His cousin wrote one of the songs the group performed in the second half called “What a Country”. He began in the band playing the banjo when it was discovered he could also sing and dance and so he did it all. After tour he became a professional dancer in “Xanadu” and “Roller Boogie”, to name two. He left his acting career to his son, Jonathan, who was in “Mathilda” and “Storytelling” and after graduating from UCLA became an attorney practicing law in the greater Los Angeles area.
Jim Keltner – Toured three times, 1974, 1975, 1978 to Japan (2), Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Columbia and South Korea. In 1974, his first year in the group, he was featured playing Howdy Doody in one sketch and, to this day, is well known for his performance. A very talented pianist, he also accompanied the group in 1978 for the first half. Naturally funny and quick witted, Jim kept everyone in stitches, including, much to his chagrin, K. Gene Simmonds. After graduating from Chapman College, he became a Choral Director and Music Teacher at Bolsa Grande High School with over 200 students in his program.
Bill Korth – Toured four times, 1973-1976, to Holland, England, Wales, Russia, Japan (2), Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Columbia and South Korea. Always a natural athlete but also with a good voice, he tried out for the group and got in. Very quickly, the choreographers discovered that he was quite a talented dancer, something that he had never tried before. By the time of the 1976 tour, he had a special “pas de deux” dance with Kathie Badetta (Saeger). He is now a Senior Computer System Technologist II.
Janet Skinner-Horton – Toured the most times of any member save Gene, five times from 1971-1975 to Holland (2), Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Japan (2), Hong Kong, Republic of China-Taiwan, England, Wales, Russia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Columbia. On the tour to Russia, she and others waited in line to see Lenin’s body in his tomb behind a bridal party! Presently a Kindergarten Teacher in Yorba Linda, California
Karen Botsford Simpson – Toured once, with the first group in 1965, to England, France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany, Holland. She met Mr. Simmonds when she attended Arroyo High School. Her mother insisted that she get in Girls Glee, which she didn’t want to do as she was already singing at church. When Mr. Simmonds heard her, he immediately wanted her to audition for the Choir even though she was only 13 years old at the time. Her Junior year Gene went on a sabbatical and when he returned he cast her as the lead in “Pirates of Penzance”. She attended college and then came back to join Gene’s Honor Choir. She says, “I can never thank K. Gene Simmonds enough. He made a HUGE difference in my life!” She still sings occasionally with church choirs and lives in Washington state.
John Stephen Ruble – Toured four times, 1969-1971, 1973, to Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria, Holland (2), Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Japan, England, Wales, Russia. John graduated from North Hollywood High School and then went on to USC. On his second tour, John sang a solo when the group performed at the Japan Expo 1970 in front of an estimated 20,000. During his last tour, John had an extra adventure in England when someone stole his passport and he and Gene had to go immediately to the American Embassy in London to get a duplicate so he could leave the country to go to Russia the next day. He is currently a Designer of houses and a Property Manager. John loves to cook and has been our caterer for many reunions and parties. He and his husband Terry met on tour and have been together ever since!
Jody Davis Topping – Toured two times, 1974 and 1975, to Japan, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Columbia. She was one of the youngest to go on tour, joining the group at age fifteen. The mentoring she got from Gene and being in such a talented group has helped her throughout her life, and she hopes to pass those attributes on to the next generation. Jody worked for the city government for over twenty-five years when she heard a new calling. She is currently the Pastor at Faith United Methodist Church in Phoenix, Arizona.
Don Clay – Toured once, also with the first group in 1965 to England, France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany, Holland. He attended Pacific University in Oregon, majoring in music education. He taught middle school continuation class in Lynwood, California for 25 years and served as music director for St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church in Rolling Hills Estates, California for 34 years. In retirement, he took to writing poetry and has a way with words. He wrote a poem about Gene, and about the impact that Gene’s vision and the Chorale had on the singers and on the world. He presented it at the last reunion. We asked him to record it for the film and he did. We have included the entire poem on our Inspirations page. Thank you for sharing your talents Don!
Executive Producer - James Drollinger
Toured twice in 1975 and 1976, to Peru, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Columbia, Japan and South Korea. James grew up in Los Angeles, California, where his father's Real Estate Company handled and leased most of downtown Westchester, surrounding LAX. Music was always a special part of his life in singing and playing the guitar. He graduated from Loyola Marymount University and went on to become the Director of Liturgy and Music at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in North Hollywood, where he most recently led his choir to travel and give concerts in Israel.
Director / Producer – Melissa Dowler
Melissa's mission, as a director, is to share the untold stories of women and people from diverse backgrounds. Her film work includes feature documentary Adele and Everything After, the documentary shorts Nothing Compares and 24 Hours at The South Street Diner and the upcoming Restarting the Motor City. She is co-founder of production company Long Haul Films, and co-founder of She Sees, a volunteer organization dedicated to inspiring the next generation of female filmmakers.
Director of Photography / Editor - Tom Dowler
Tom is an ex-pat Brit who started making films at the University of York, where he founded the University Cinematography Society, and went on to a Masters in Feature Film Development at Goldsmiths College. Tom is co-founder of Long Haul Films, where has photographed the documentary films Adele and Everything After, Nothing Compares and 24 Hours at The South Street Diner as well as shooting branded content, commercials, promotional films and music videos.
Additional Cinematography / Editor - Megan Lovallo
Megan is a product of Boston University’s film program and two-time winner of the prestigious Redstone Film Festival for her short film, Off To The Races. Megan’s cinematography work includes documentary shorts, branded content and promotional films.