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In this 1995 photo, Nancy DeVincent holds a pair of boots she wore early in her career as Sam shows off his accordion. At right is a 1940s photo of Nancy Lee and the Hilltoppers.

Last song: Hilltoppers’ Nancy Lee dies at 92

N. DeVincent

In one of Larry DeVincent’s earliest memories, his parents wake him in the pre-dawn hours and he slides onto the back seat of a Ford Fairlane 500 under a massive bass fiddle.

Past Fort Wayne’s darkened windows, the child would accompany his parents to their live radio show, part of a musical commitment they kept up for more than half a century.

DeVincent said it’s not only his parents’ music on his mind as he mourns his mother, Nancy L. DeVincent, who died Thursday at 92.

While they earned their fame on WOWO AM 1190 as Nancy Lee and the Hilltoppers, DeVincent said his mother and his father, Sam DeVincent, were first and foremost parents. If Larry DeVincent wandered onstage, he didn’t get into trouble – he was introduced and often became a comedic interlude in the show.

“They were just the most loving parents,” he said. “That didn’t stop when they were doing their jobs.”

In an audio interview posted on www.historyofwowo.com, Nancy DeVincent at 90 recalled how she got into the radio business as a teen in Chicago, performing with her sister.

She and Sam DeVincent joined WOWO in 1945 and were part of the “Little Red Barn” program as Nancy Lee and the Hilltoppers; Nancy played guitar. They also performed on the “Hoosier Hop,” broadcast coast-to-coast on the NBC Radio Network, and at live events.

“It was a wonderful time in our lives,” she said during the 2009 interview.

Sam DeVincent, who played accordion in the Hilltoppers, also was a longtime music director at WOWO, a producer and a host. DeVincent, who died in 1997, had a vast personal collection of sheet music that now resides at the Smithsonian Institution.

In addition to many in-laws, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the DeVincents are survived by two of their three children; daughter Diane Helms died in 2000.

Daughter Lori Deal said she knew her mother as a godly, generous and warmhearted person.

“I don’t know too many people like that,” she said.

Her older brother and his son spent the last days of Nancy DeVincent’s life at her bedside, often playing audio clips of the old country music she made and loved. Just three weeks before her death, she attended church with Larry DeVincent, who performs during services.

DeVincent said his mother could barely walk by that time, but she could sing.

“At 92 years old, her harmony was perfect. Her pitch was perfect,” he said. “Like a little songbird on my shoulder.”

aturner@jg.net

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