February 12, 2000 – William Oliver Swofford was born on February 22, 1945 in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. He began singing as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the mid 1960s. He was a member of two popular music groups — The Virginians and, later, The Good Earth — and was then known as Bill Swofford.
His clean-cut good looks and soaring tenor voice were the perfect vehicle for the uptempo single entitled “Good Morning Starshine” from the pop/rock musical Hair, which reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1969, sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. a month later. Later that fall, a softer, ballad single entitled “Jean” (the theme from the Oscar-winning film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) bested his previous effort by one, reaching No. 2 on the Hot 100 and No. 1 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart. Written by poet Rod McKuen, “Jean” also sold over one million copies, garnering Oliver his second gold disc in as many months. Performing both hits on a number of TV variety shows and specials in the late 1960s, including The Ed Sullivan Show, helped both songs.
Oliver had more modest commercial success, however, with the cover of “Sunday Mornin’,” which peaked at No. 35 in December 1969, and “Angelica,” which stalled at No. 97 four months later. In addition, his cover of “I Can Remember,” the 1968 James & Bobby Purify hit, missed the Hot 100 but climbed into the top 25 of the Billboard Easy Listening chart in the mid summer of 1970. Late that fall, Oliver also had one inspirational recording entitled “Light the Way,” composed by Eric Carmen. Oliver’s last single to enter the pop music charts was his 1971 cover of “Early Morning Rain” by Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. The song “Bubbled Under” at No. 124 on May 1, 1971 and also reached No. 38 the Easy Listening chart a few weeks later.
His producer Bob Crewe also recorded with The Rays, Diane Renay, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Freddy Cannon, Lesley Gore, Michael Jackson, Bobby Darin, Roberta Flack, Peabo Bryson, Patti LaBelle, and Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons as well as his own The Bob Crewe Generation.
As Crewe preferred elaborately orchestrated musical arrangements and Oliver preferred a simpler folk sound, these “creative differences” led them to part ways in 1971. Resuming the name Bill Swofford, the singer toured hundreds of college campuses in the eastern and southern United States in 1976 and 1977, but a short-lived attempt to team up with Karen Carpenter during the same period proved unsuccessful.
Despite his vocal talents, Swofford was unable to sustain further success on the charts, and in 1983, People magazine ran a feature article on Swofford, describing him as a happily married father who kept his distance from the music industry, selling real estate. Several years later, it was reported that he was working as a business manager in Shreveport, Louisiana, for a major American pharmaceutical company.
He recorded however on numerous albums of his friends playing guitar, steel guitar, and vocals. His natural talent and incredible range made him one who was called often for recording sessions.
He was plagued with Sjögren’s syndrome for a number of years before being diagnosed with Lymphoma cancer. His brother John endured a bone marrow transplant on his behalf in 1999, however Bill died 10 months later on February 12, 2000, in Shreveport, Louisiana at the age of 54.
Oliver was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2010.