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The Swan Silvertones
The Swan Silvertones are an American gospel music group that first achieved popularity in the 1940s and 1950s under the leadership of Claude Jeter. Jeter formed the group in 1938 as the "Four Harmony Kings" while he was working as a coal miner in West Virginia. After moving to Knoxville, Tennessee and obtaining their own radio show, the group changed its name to the "Silvertone Singers" in order to avoid confusion with another ensemble known as the "Four Kings of Harmony." They added the name Swan shortly thereafter, since Swan Bakeries sponsored their show. Their wide exposure through radio brought them a contract with King Records.
At this early stage, the Silvertones already embodied an amalgam of two styles: the close barbershop harmonies that they had featured when starting out in West Virginia, and virtuoso leads supplied by Jeter and Solomon Womack. The group later lost Womack, but added Paul Owens in 1952 and Louis Johnson in 1955. The three singers with their sharply contrasting styles – Jeter a tenor who could sing falsetto without losing his lyric control, Owens a crooner, and Johnson a hard shouter – played off each other to great effect in songs such as "Mary Don't You Weep."
The group recorded for Specialty Records from 1951 to 1955, when it switched to Vee-Jay Records. They recorded one album with Hob Records after Vee-Jay shut down in 1965, at which point Jeter left the group for the ministry.
When interviewed by Dick Cavett in April 1970, Paul Simon credited the group with inspiring him to write the song "Bridge Over Troubled Water." John Fogerty's goal for the line, "Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river," in the song "Proud Mary" was to evoke male gospel harmonies, as exemplified by groups such as the Swan Silvertones, the Sensational Nightingales, and the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi.
The Swan Silvertones were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002.
In January 2011, the Swan Silvertones were nominated for The 10th Annual Independent Music Awards in the Gospel category for Need More Love.
- Zolten, Jerry, Great God A' Mighty!:The Dixie Hummingbirds – Celebrating The Rise Of Soul Gospel Music, Oxford University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-19-515272-7.
- 'The Swan Silvertones' Vocal Group Hall of Fame Page
- 'The Swan Silvertones' Pittsburgh Music History
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