Vern Yocum, copyist, librarian, orchestrator and woodwind player, developed Hollywood’s top music preparation office, servicing hundreds of performers from the radio, television, film, and recording industries. Yocum prepared, catalogued, and maintained music libraries for popular performers of the Golden Era. Among his many business relationships, Yocum is best known for the 17 year association with Nat King Cole and his thirty plus year collaboration with Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle. Yocum assisted trumpeter Cecil Reed in organizing The Musician’s Guild in 1955, resulting in union reform. In 1961 Yocum was elected to represent the copyists on the team negotiating improved retirement benefits and pay scales, which are still in effect today.
Born April 15, 1909, in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, Yocum received early music training, learning to read music before language. He grew up listening to jazz records, singing duets with his brother, Clark (guitarist and vocalist for The Pied Pipers), and performing in family quartets in church services. At the age of 14 he got his first professional job with a local band, singing and playing the saxophone and clarinet.
From 1927 to 1943, Yocum played with multiple bands including Floyd Mills and the Marylanders, California Serenaders, Tal Henry, Coom Sanders, Casa Nova, Jimmy Joyce, Tony Cabot, Red Nichols and the Five Pennies, Ben Pollack, Chico Marx, Tommy Dorsey, and Boyd Raeburn. To earn extra income, he copied his first professional charts for both Dorsey and Raeburn for up to $7 an arrangement. He extended his musical skills by studying with the legendary clarinetist Daniel Bonade in Cleveland and took classes at the Chicago Conservatory of Music.
During World War II, Yocum founded, led, and prepared a music library for the acclaimed Camp Ward Navy Band. Following his discharge from the service in 1945, Yocum relocated to the West Coast where he found work copying Pied Pipers’ music for Skippy Martin and with arranger Paul Villepigue. The steady income supplements motivated him to continue. He managed and played with The Bob Keene Band before transitioning fully into music preparation.
Yocum’s relationship with Frank Sinatra began while playing with Tommy Dorsey. In the late ‘40’s, he was invited to become Sinatra’s copyist and librarian. Yocum’s association with Johnny Mercer and the Pied Pipers opened the door to Capitol Records, where he worked with a long list of entertainers and arrangers including Peggy Lee, Keely Smith, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, Alex Stordahl, Gordon Jenkins, Billy May, Frank Duval, George Cates, Don Costa, and André Previn. In 1951, Nelson Riddle chose Yocum to prepare all of his music, which precipitated a move to a larger office near the future site of the Capitol Records tower. His office contributed to many shows and productions, including Make Room for Daddy, Dragnet, Route 66, The American Film Institute Awards, The Golden Globes, The Nat King Cole Show, The Andy Griffith Show, The Rosemary Clooney Show, Smothers Brothers, Leslie Uggums, Tony Orlando, Julie Andrews, all the Frank Sinatra specials, the John F. Kennedy Inaugural Gala, Ronald Reagan’s Governor’s Ball, and the Television Relief Fund Extravaganza. He also illustrated Nelson Riddle’s book Arranged by Nelson Riddle. He retired in 1981, and handed his office over to one of his copyists, Terry Woodson, who now carries on the fine art of music notation. Vern Yocum died of bladder cancer on September 13, 1991.