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Published on Nov 18, 2008
The Swan Silvertones was a Gospel music group that achieved great popularity in the 1940s and 1950s while led by Claude Jeter, who formed the group in 1938 as the "Four Harmony Kings" while working as a coal miner in West Virginia. The group changed its name to the "Silvertone Singers" after moving to Knoxville, Tennessee and obtaining their own radio show in order to avoid confusion with another group 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 that point the Silvertones represented 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 withut 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. The group recorded one album with Hob Records after Vee-Jay shut down in 1965, at which point Jeter left the group for the ministry.
The Swan Silvertones were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002.