The Swingle Singers
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The Swingle Singers are a mostly a cappella vocal group formed in 1962 in Paris, France by Ward Swingle with Anne Germain, Jeanette Baucomont, Jean Cussac and others. Christiane Legrand, the sister of composer Michel Legrand, was the group's lead soprano through 1972. Until 2011, the group consisted of eight voices: two sopranos, two altos, two tenors and two basses. The French group performed and recorded typically with only a double bass and drums as accompaniment. The current group performs primarily a cappella. In 1973, the original French group disbanded and Ward Swingle moved to London and recruited all new members who debuted as Swingle II. The group later performed and recorded under the name The Swingles and then, The New Swingle Singers and eventually, simply, The Swingle Singers. Since the London group's incarnation, the group has never disbanded. As individual members have left the group, the remaining members have held auditions for replacements.
The group, directed originally by Ward Swingle (who once belonged to Mimi Perrin's French vocal group Les Double Six), began as session singers mainly doing background vocals for singers such as Charles Aznavour and Edith Piaf. Christiane Legrand, sister of Michel Legrand, was the original lead soprano, and they did some jazz vocals for Michel Legrand. The eight session singers sang through Bach's Well-Tempered Klavier as a sight-reading exercise and found the music to have a natural swing. They recorded their first album Jazz Sébastien Bach as a present for friends and relatives. Many radio stations picked it up and this led to the group recording more albums and winning a total of five Grammy Awards.
An early hit for the group was Bach's "Air on the G String", recorded with the Modern Jazz Quartet. This is also the theme tune to a popular Italian TV Show Superquark. Luciano Berio wrote his postmodern symphony Sinfonia for eight voices and orchestra in 1968 with the Swingle Singers in mind (appearing on the original premier recording with the New York Philharmonic). They also recorded Ben Johnston's "Sonnets of Desolation" in 1984.
In 2005, their recording of Bach's Prelude in F Minor was incorporated into the hit single "They", by Jem Griffiths; the piece was also used in the 2006 film The Gigolos. The group's music has a trademark sound and is used frequently on television (The West Wing, Sex in the City, Miami Vice, Glee), in movies (Bach's Fugue in G Minor (BWV 578) in Thank You for Smoking, Mozart's "Horn Concerto No. 4" in Wedding Crashers, Bach's "Prelude No.7 in E flat [The Well Tempered Clavier - Book 2 BWV 876]" in Milk). The London group sang with French pop star Étienne Daho on his songs "Timide intimité" and "Soudain" from his 1996 album Eden, and with the Style Council on their song "The Story of Someone's Shoe" from the 1988 album Confessions of a Pop Group. (Style Council leader Paul Weller claims the song was inspired by the Swingle Singers' 1966 album with the Modern Jazz Quartet, Place Vendôme).
The Swingle Singers produce covers ranging from modern classics (Björk, Annie Lennox, and The Beatles) to classical music (Bach, Mozart) to Contemporary Music (Luciano Berio, Pascal Zavaro and Azio Corghi). Their arrangements are often informed by jazz harmonies and stylings.
The current members are:
- Joanna Goldsmith-Eteson (soprano, UK)
- Sara Brimer (soprano, US)
- Clare Wheeler (alto, UK)
- Oliver Griffiths (tenor, UK) (Replaced Richard Eteson mid-2010)
- Christopher Jay (tenor, UK)
- Kevin Fox (baritone, Canada)
- Edward Randell (bass, UK)
- Sound engineer: Hugh Walker (UK)
On 1 November 2011, both Christiane Legrand and Swingles composer André Hodeir died.
Honors and awards
- Grammy Award winner:
- 1963: Best New Artist and (for Bach's Greatest Hits) Best Performance by a Chorus,
- 1964: Best Performance by a Chorus, for The Swingle Singers Going Baroque
- 1965: Best Performance by a Chorus, for Anyone for Mozart?
- 1969: Best Choral Performance, for Berio: Sinfonia - Ward Swingle, choral master; Luciano Berio conducting the New York Philharmonic and Swingle Singers
- Grammy Award nominations:
- 1963: Album Of The Year, for Bach's Greatest Hits
- 1966: Best Performance by a Chorus, for Rococo À Go Go
- 1967: Best Performance by a Chorus, for Encounter, Swingle Singers with the Modern Jazz Quartet
The Paris-based Swingle Singers recorded regularly for Philips in the 1960s and early 1970s and the successor group continued to record, after the move to London, for Columbia / CBS, Virgin Classics and other record labels from 1974 to the present.
In Popular Culture
Mentioned in season 3, episode 23 of The West Wing, "Posse Comitatus." As Deborah Fiderer, played by Lily Tomlin, exits a disastrous job interview with President Jed Bartlet, she is heard to wonder: "Whatever happened to the Swingle Singers?"
- LA Times Awards Database
- New Hit Show "Glee" Goes A Cappella
- NEW TENOR APPOINTED
- "Swingle Singers Become Seven" 31 August 2011 www.swinglesingers.com. Accessed 31 September 2011.
- "A New Adventure Starting for Lucy" www.swinglesingers.com. Accessed 31 September 2011.
- Oh, no! Another Swingle dies. Artsjournal.com (2011-11-02). Retrieved on 2012-04-26.
- The Swingle Singers web site
- The Swingle Singers discography at allmusic.com.
- The Swingle Singers profile at singers.com.
- The Swingle Singers discography & sheet music listing at a-cappella.com