In the midst of all the musical chaos of the 1960s, an era when several different genres were fighting for dominance in the pop music world, there was always room for something a little different. That would certainly describe the Grammy-winning Swingle Singers, a French (and later English) import led by an American.
Ward Swingle was born in Mobile, Alabama, and by the time he reached adulthood in the post-war years the talented pianist had already spent many years in the study of music. Continuing his training in France, he also began working in music and eventually managed to land a job with an experimental French singing group, Les Doubles Six of Paris.
Fascinated by the group’s methods, which including overdubbing multiple voices combined with scat singing, Swingle became one of the most creative members of the ensemble. Eventually he left the original group and created his own, which he appropriately enough named the Swingle Singers.
Swingle continued experimenting with new ideas and by the early 1960s the group began to attract some attention with its ability to perform familiar classics with minimal instrumention or in some cases a capella, with the singers’ voices taking on amazingly complex parts.
The ensemble began recording and soon hit the charts with unique versions of music by Bach, Mozart, and many others. One of the early pieces I’ve always liked is “Vendome,” but in the decades since, the group has managed to cover everything from show music to pop standards.
Over the years, the makeup of the Swingle Singers changed many times, and Swingle even based the group in England for a while. Eventually he cut back on his direct participation, but has remained a part of the ensemble, which is still performing after more than 40 years.