Oliver (singer)

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Oliver 1972.JPG
1972 publicity photo
Born William Oliver Swofford
(1945-02-22)February 22, 1945
North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, U.S.
Died February 12, 2000(2000-02-12) (aged 54)
Shreveport, Louisiana, U.S.
Cause of death Cancer
Resting place Laurel Land Memorial Park
Dallas, Texas, U.S.
Education Wilkes Central High School
Alma mater University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Occupation Singer
Spouse(s) Margaret Hicks Ramspacher (m. 1974–88)
Rebecca Jean Alexander (m. 1991–2000)
Musical career
Genres Pop
Instruments Vocals
Years active 1969–77

William Oliver Swofford (February 22, 1945 – February 12, 2000), known professionally as Oliver, was an American pop singer, best known for his 1969 song "Good Morning Starshine" from the musical Hair as well as "Jean" (the theme from the film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie).


William Oliver Swofford was born on February 22, 1945, in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, to Jack and Helen Swofford.[1] He was a recipient of the prestigious Morehead Scholarship and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill starting in 1963 and began singing as an undergraduate. He was a member of two popular music groups — The Virginians and, later, The Good Earth — and was then known as Bill Swofford.

His clean-cut good looks and soaring tenor voice were the perfect vehicle for the uptempo single titled "Good Morning Starshine" from the pop/rock musical Hair, which reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1969, sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. a month later.[2] Later that fall, a softer, ballad single titled "Jean" (the theme from the Oscar-winning film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) bested his previous effort by one, reaching No. 2 on the Hot 100 and No. 1 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart. Written by poet Rod McKuen, "Jean" also sold over one million copies, garnering Oliver his second gold disc in as many months.[2] Performing both hits on a number of television variety shows and specials in the late 1960s, including The Ed Sullivan Show, helped both songs.

Bill "Oliver" Swofford had more modest commercial success, however, with the cover of "Sunday Mornin'", which peaked at No. 35 in December 1969, and "Angelica", which stalled at No. 97 four months later. In addition, his cover of "I Can Remember", the 1968 James & Bobby Purify hit, missed the Hot 100 but climbed into the top 25 of the Billboard Easy Listening chart in the mid summer of 1970.[3] Late that fall, Oliver also had one inspirational recording titled "Light the Way", composed by Eric Carmen. Oliver's last single to enter the pop music charts was his 1971 cover of "Early Morning Rain" by Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. The song "Bubbled Under" at No. 124 on May 1, 1971 and also reached No. 38 on the Easy Listening chart a few weeks later.[4]

Producer Bob Crewe also recorded with The Rays, Diane Renay, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Freddy Cannon, Lesley Gore, Michael Jackson, Bobby Darin, Roberta Flack, Peabo Bryson, Patti LaBelle, and Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons as well as his own The Bob Crewe Generation.

As Crewe preferred elaborately orchestrated musical arrangements and Oliver preferred a simpler folk sound, these "creative differences" led them to part ways in 1971.[5] Resuming the name Bill "Oliver" Swofford, the singer toured hundreds of college campuses in the eastern and southern United States in 1976 and 1977. He was recorded on numerous albums of his friends including Steve Goodman and is credited with guitar, and vocals on several of Steve's albums. He and Goodman wrote one of the songs together (Jessie's Jig (Rob's Romp, Beth's Bounce)) which was released on the album Jessie's Jig and Other Favorites and dedicated it to their children. His natural talent and vocal range made him one who was called often for recording sessions.

Rod McKuen did indeed sing "Jean," in fact he wrote it. Here's what Rod wrote about it and the man who made it such a huge world wide hit, Oliver, back in February of 2000.


William Oliver Swofford would have been 55 today. He died this past week of cancer. You might have known him better by his stage name Oliver. He was a songwriter who wrote literate, lovely songs and the voice that took "Good Morning Starshine" to the top of the charts. And, not so incidentally, turned my title song from "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" into an international hit.

Bill Swofford was another of those people that happened along in my life and changed its course.

In the spring of 1969 I was in New York for a guest shot on a Nancy Sinatra television special. The director, Dwight Hemian asked me to perform "A Cat Named Sloopy" as part of my program. He was a friend of writer/producer Bob Crewe and knew that Bob had a beautiful white Persian cat named Simon. He suggested that I should get together with Simon for some photographs that could be used during the performance. I'd go anywhere to meet a cat and getting to meet Bob, the architect of The Four Seasons and so many other acts I admired, was the alamode.

I left Bob with a test pressing of the "Jean Brodie" soundtrack and forgot about it. I had no idea he was Oliver's producer and anyway it couldn't possibly make a difference. I didn't have any unusual expectations for "Jean," after all a year earlier I'd written the songs and score for another film, "Joanna" and nobody was tripping over themselves to record "I'll Catch The Sun" or "The Ivy That Clings To the Wall." (to my way of thinking still two of my best songs).

By September Oliver had made "Jean" the number two song in the country. At the end of the year Oliver's "Jean" was such an enormous hit that it was covered by nearly a hundred artists around the world, including Johnny Mathis, Glenn Campbell, Henry Mancini and Andy Williams. Jazz and polka artists did it and a couple of female singers even performed it as "Gene." I, myself, sang it to Gene Kelly at the Golden Globes and won the statue. It earned me the Motion Picture Exhibitors Award as the years' best film song and an Oscar nomination.

No song, good, bad or so-so means anything unless it's performed and performed well. Oliver didn't just sing "Jean" well; he and Bob Crewe's production values set a standard for its performance.

I'm sorry to say I never got to know Bill Swofford as well as I'd like to have known him. My loss. With his passing all of us have lost yet another voice for our kind of song. His voice has been missing for a long while and now will be missed evermore.

- Rod McKuen February 22, 2000

Personal life and death[edit]

Despite his vocal and songwriting talents, Swofford was unable to sustain further success on the charts and, in 1983, People magazine ran a feature article on Swofford, describing him as a happily married father who kept his distance from the music industry, selling real estate. Several years later, it was reported that he was working as a business manager in Shreveport, Louisiana, for a major American pharmaceutical company.

William "Bill" Oliver Swofford was married twice. His first marriage was to Margaret Hicks Ramspacher, from 1974 to 1988, and he adopted her children, Beth Swofford (CAA Partner & art collector) of New York and Rob Swofford of Austin, Texas. He married Rebecca Jean Alexander in 1991 and moved to Pennsylvania, followed by Shreveport until his death in early 2000.

Oliver, along with his three brothers, Carl Swofford, James "Jim" Swofford, and John Swofford, attended Wilkes Central High School, where they were three sport lettermen playing football and other sports for the Wilkes Central Eagles. He was a member of the 1962 Wilkes Central High School football team which won 11 straight games and the Western North Carolina High School Athletics Association ("WNCHSAA") championship. (At that time, there were two "state" champions, one for western North Carolina and one (NCHSAA) for the rest of the state.) Bill was on the track team as well until a torn muscle in his leg grounded him from continuing sports and allowed him to focus more on his music. Jim, a lineman, went on to play collegiate football at Duke University. John, who was quarterback for the Eagles, went on to play quarterback for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and later became its athletic director and the commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1997.

The singer was plagued with Sjögren's syndrome in the mid-1990s for a number of years before being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. His brother John was the donor for a bone marrow transplant in hopes of saving Bill's life in 1999. Bill died ten months later on February 12, 2000, at LSU Hospital in Shreveport ten days shy of his 55th birthday. He is buried at Laurel Land Memorial Park in Dallas, Texas.[6]

In 2009, Ted Brown, a native from Swofford's home town, asked North Carolina legislators to introduce a resolution in the North Carolina General Assembly to honor Swofford and his contributions to music. On July 7, 2009, the resolution was passed.[7] On the 40th anniversary of Swofford's hit making success, Brown chaired and directed a musical tribute in honor of Swofford. The festival was appropriately named "OliverFest". Bob Crewe and "60's on 6" celebrity disc jockey, Phlash Phelps, served as honorary co-chair(s) with Brown.

Oliver was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2010.[8]



Year Album Billboard 200 Record Label
1969 Good Morning Starshine 19 Crewe Records
1970 Again 71
1971 The Best of Oliver
1971 Prisms United Artists Records
2005 Good Morning Starshine:The Best of Oliver Taragon Records


Year Title Peak chart positions Record Label B-side Album
1969 "Good Morning Starshine" 3 3 6 Jubilee Records "Can't You See" Good Morning Starshine
"Jean" 2 1 Crewe Records "The Arrangement"
"Sunday Mornin'" 35 14 "Letmekissyouwithadream"
1970 "Angelica" 97 26 "Anna" Again
"I Can Remember" 24 "Where There's A Heartache (There Must Be A Heart)"
"Light the Way" United Artists Records "Sweet Kindness" Prisms
1971 "Early Morning Rain" 124 38 "Catch Me If You Can"
1973 "Everybody I Love You" Paramount Records "I Am Reaching"


  • Hyatt, Wesley (1999). The Billboard Book of #1 Adult Contemporary Hits (Billboard Publications)


  1. ^ "North Carolina General Assembly - House Joint Resolution 1653 Information/History (2009-2010 Session)". Ncleg.net. Retrieved 2015-08-24. 
  2. ^ a b Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 264. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  3. ^ Billboard Magazine. Billboard Publications. 1970-08-08. p. 31. Retrieved 2011-01-01. 
  4. ^ "Oliver Songs ••• Top Songs / Chart Singles Discography ••• Music VF, US & UK hits charts". Musicvf.com. Retrieved 2015-08-24. 
  5. ^ Lamparski, Richard. Whatever Became of...? All New Tenth Series. New York: Crown Books, 1986.
  6. ^ "William "Oliver" Swofford (1945 - 2000) - Find A Grave Memorial". Findagrave.com. Retrieved 2015-08-24. 
  7. ^ "North Carolina General Assembly - House Joint Resolution 1653 Information/History (2009-2010 Session)". Ncleg.net. Retrieved 2015-08-24. 
  8. ^ "2010 Inductees". North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. Retrieved September 10, 2012. 

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