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Vocal Group Hall of Fame Faces Troubles

December 31, 2004

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Six years after it opened, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame has shut its doors and canceled its 2004 induction amid financial troubles and, most recently, two lawsuits filed by its original benefactor. The hall’s operators, however, insist the woes won’t sink the hall for good.

``There is no doubt the Vocal Group Hall of Fame will live, it just probably will not be in Pennsylvania,″ said Bob Crosby, the hall’s president and chief executive.

Organizers had lofty aspirations when the hall inducted its first class in 1998 _ one that included The Platters, The Supremes, The Andrews Sisters and the Beach Boys.

``There’s a place for it, and it exists in the minds and hearts of all the vocal groups we’ve touched already,″ said founder Tony Butala, also the founding member of the vocal group The Lettermen.

Located in the small town of Sharon on the Pennsylvania-Ohio border, the hall was founded by Butala with help from James E. Winner Jr., owner of a hotel and the company that makes The Club vehicle anti-theft device.

Inductees were chosen among groups having a minimum of three-part harmony, 20 years in the music business and a hit song.

About 93 groups have been inducted so far _ each time with a concert and a ceremony in Sharon. The museum included memorabilia Butala has been collecting for years, including the gowns The Supremes wore on their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.

But few people were willing to pay to tour the museum in Sharon, about 65 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

Crosby said when Winner decided to pull out in 2001, operators formed the Vocal Group Hall of Fame Foundation to help keep things running.

When donations failed to meet the hall’s needs, Crosby said the hall unsuccessfully sought sponsorships from local businesses. He said there’s been little support from local tourism officials.

The latest crisis came Dec. 23, when Winner filed a lawsuit against the hall and its foundation, seeking $10,000 he said he loaned them in 2002. This week, Winner and his wife, Donna, filed a second lawsuit, claiming the Vocal Group Hall of Fame Foundation owes $50,000 in back taxes on property it uses for the museum and hall, which is owned by the Winners.

The couple also claims memorabilia in the hall was illegally removed despite terms of the lease. (Crosby said those items were removed for safe keeping when the hall closed earlier this year.)

Richard Moroco, the lawyer who filed the lawsuits on behalf of the Winners, declined to comment Thursday. A woman who answered the phone at Winner’s office said he would not be back until next week.

For now, Crosby said the foundation has hired an attorney and is expecting the fight to be decided in court.

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On the Net:

http://www.vghf.com