The Start of The "Four Harmony Kings"
The a capella quartet originally named the “Four Harmony Kings” was formed by Claude Jeter in 1938 in Coaland, West Virginia. Claude always had a passion for singing, he sang in his church choir as well as his high school choir. He formed his first gospel singing group at the age of fourteen with four other boys. After high school Claude worked in coal mines but wanted to pursue something fulfilling thus he started the group that included his brother Melvyn Jeter, and two other miners, John Henry Myles and Alfred Patton. Their music style was jubilee gospel and they performed at gospel gatherings in West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky. Before the groups major start in the 1940s, Claude Jeter sang on tour for two weeks with the Dixie Hummingbirds filling in for Jimmy Bryant in 1939.
From The Four Harmony Kings to The Swan Silvertones
In 1940 The Four Harmony Kings had a 15-minute trial audition for a radio station in Knoxville, Tennessee for three Sundays mornings. They were a huge success and appeared on the show every Sunday. To avoid confusion with another group they renamed themselves the “Silvertone Singers” in 1942. The president of the “Swan” bread company caught wind of the group and decided to sponsor them on a daily show on the WIBR radio station. They then renamed themselves the Swan Silvertones. Their show ran for five years and could be heard throughout the South. Once the Silvertones began to tour more, they ended their daily show in 1947.
Swan Silvertones On The Rise
The group began cutting singles in 1946 for Sydney Nathan’s Cincinnati based Kings Records without Melvyn Jeter and Alred Patton but with new members Solomon Womack (R&B singer Bobby Womack’s uncle), Robert Crenshaw, John Manson and Henry K. Bossard. With lead vocals from Claude Jeter and Solomon Wonack, the group produced 26 singles with the label including “I Cried Holy” and “Go Ahead”.
Unhappy with Kings Records the group moved to Specialty Records in 1951 and stayed until 1953 but only released a few singles before they decided to part ways with the label in 1955. These songs included “I’m A-Rollin” and “My Rock” During this time in 1950, Solomon Womack was replaced with former Dixie Hummingbirds member Paul Owen.
The group then began recording with Vee-Jay Records where their sound really developed with the help of new edition Paul Owens who arranged much of their music. The main members of the Silvertones during their time at Vee-Jay Records were Claude Jeter, John Myles, Paul Owens and William “Pete” Connor. There were other members exchanged throughout this time: Dewey Young, Louis Johnson and Robert Crutcher. In 1956 the group began adding instruments which was a huge change because they previously produced an a capella sound. They stayed with Vee-Jay records until 1964 and recorded their biggest hit “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep”.
The Swan Silvertones' Dismemberment
In 1965 Vee-Jay Records closed and the group moved to HOB Records. Here they recorded their last album with Claude Jeter before he left to pursue his own music and become a minister. At HOB Records, without Jeter, the Swan Sivertones recorded a couple singles one of which included “I’m Not Tired Yet”. In the early 1970s Paul Owens left the group to join the Brooklyn Allstars and then he went back to the Dixie Hummingbirds. John Myles retired from the group in 1978. With Savory Records in 1979 the group released two albums “There’s Not a Friend Like Jesus” and “Let Us All Go Back To The Old Landmark”. Claude Jeter made occasional appearances with the group at reunion concerts.
The Influence of The Swan Silvertones
The Swan Silvertones are considered one of the greatest gospel quartet groups of all time. During their career they set the stage for many groups that came after them with their jubilee shout style and harmonies. The lead singer Claude Jeter elevated vocal harmony and is credited for influencing the vocal styles of Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green and many more. They were one of the most respected and liked groups in the South at the time.
“Swan Silvertones – Pittsburgh Music History.” Google Sites, sites.google.com/site/pittsburghmusichistory/pittsburgh-music-story/gospel/swan-silvertones.
Erlewine, Michael, and Michael Erlewine. “The Swan Silvertones | Biography & History.” AllMusic, www.allmusic.com/artist/the-swan-silvertones-mn0000034721/biography.
“The Swan Silvertones.” Rate Your Music, rateyourmusic.com/artist/the-swan-silvertones.