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Swan Silvertones

Swan Silvertones

The greatness of a vocal group depends on demonstrated influence on quartets that have followed them. No where is that clearer than with the Swan Silvertones and their famous lead singer, the Reverend Claude Jeter. Jeter's use of a falsetto lead revolutionized the way we think of vocal harmony. In more than sixty years of singing, the Swan Silvertones excelled in vocal harmony and set the stage for countless groups that came after them.

Claude A. Jeter was born in Montgomery, Alabama, on October 26, 1914. Montgomery was near Birmingham, long a hotbed of quartet singing and Claude grew up singing harmony. Claude's father died when he was eight and soon after Claude's mother, Maggie Jeter, moved the family to Kentucky. There, Claude sang in the church choir and began experimenting in quartet singing. In his early twenties, Claude Jeter went to nearby Coalwood, West Virginia to work in the coal mines.

In 1938, Claude Jeter organized a singing group called the Four Harmony Kings with his brother and two other coal miners. The group sang at nearby churches on weekends. In the coal mining community, black gospel quartet singing flourished. Community churches had their own quartets but touring quartets like the Dixie Hummingbirds and Heavenly Gospel Singers regularly came through the area. On one such occasion, Claude Jeter became a brief fill-in member of the Dixie Hummingbirds. When "Birds" organizer James Davis fired bass Jimmy Bryant, Claude Jeter was asked to substitute for him on several programs, singing bass. The opportunity lasted only a short time until Bryant returned to the Hummingbirds.

In 1942, Claude Jeter quit coal mining and moved to Knoxville, TN, taking two of the Harmony Kings with him. The group, then consisting of Claude Jeter, John Myles, Leroy Watkins and Eddie Boroughas, changed its name to the Silvertone Singers. They soon landed a daily radio program on 50,000-watt radio station WDIR in Knoxville, Tennessee. Since the program was sponsored by the Swan Bakery, their name changed again to the Swan Silvertones. The Swan Silvertones sang live on the radio for fifteen minutes every weekday. Evenings and weekends saw the group singing at area churches. During this time, Jeter experimented with falsetto to enable him to extend his vocal range. The audience seemed to like it so he began using falsetto more and more.

Their radio show and live appearances made the Swan Silvertones one of the most popular quartets in the south. In July 1946, the Swan Silvertones were given some time off from their radio show to record for King records in Cincinnati. The group now consisted of Claude Jeter (lead), Albert Reed (tenor), Solomon Womack (baritone), John Myles (baritone) and William Johnson (bass singer and guitar). In contrast to Jeter's falsetto lead, Womack was added to the group to provide a hard, gospel lead. Eight songs were recorded at this first session, resulting in four 78 RPM singles on the subsidiary Queen label. After the Queen label was discontinued in 1947, some or all of these sides were reissued on the King label. Subsequent Swan Silvertones' records came out only on King.

Discography

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Swan Silvertones : Heavenly Light

Review: Prior to their debut recording session for Specialty Records in 1952, Label owner Art Rube advised the Swan Silvertones to "really shout and make everybody happier and make the old sisters fall out and really tear down the building!". The Swans, often regarded as a "smooth" quartet, were in a stylistic transition during the three years they spent at Specialty and the company succeeded in bringing out their harder, churchier edge. These 18 selections were never previously released. Eight were recorded in the studio and ten in front of a live audience, all capturing the famous group singing and testifying as it haven't before or since.

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3012c | 00 1 CD | $10.95 | Primarily a cappella Gospel Group Harmony CDs


Swan Silvertones : 1946 - 1951

Review: Definitive 2 CD collection of the post-war material from these gospel legends. The beginnings of The Swan Silvertones, one of the most revered and respected Gospel vocal groups of all time, starts with the legendary high tenor, falsetto voice of the Reverend Claude Jeter. His influence over a generation of Soul singers to come is breathtakingly presented on this 2-CD collection of some of their greatest early recordings. You will hear echoes of Bobby Womack, Wilson Pickett and David Ruffin and indeed much of the early Temptations sound in these tracks many of which are making their first appearance on CD. Liner notes by noted musicologist Opal Nations.

Songlist:

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3011c | 00 2 CDs | $15.95 | Primarily a cappella Black Vocal Groups

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