Swingle founded the Swingle Singers in Paris in the early sixties.
The whole thing began as an exercise by eight free-lance singers.
The group was bored by the simple fare available in the studios, for
this was an era dominated by pop and early rock. One day Ward got
out Bach's "Well Tempered Clavichord" and they tried them out, to
find that singing them came naturally.
they released their first recording on Phillips. By word of mouth,
DJ after DJ began playing it. After climbing the charts it hit the
top ten and stayed in the top 100 for more than a year and a half!
That one and their following two albums won Grammies for Best Performance
By A Chorus, and Bach's Greatest Hits also won a Grammy for Best New
Moving from the recording studio to live performance wasn't that great
a stretch as the group didn't overdub. Ward, who did the arrangements,
stayed close to Bach's written score, just adding drums and bass to
accentuate the rhythm. Thus he developed a style which used the voice
as an instrument in a fusion of jazz and classical styles. Much of
the next ten years was spent touring with Les Swingles as they
had created an international audience in no small part because scat
turned out to be an international language.
As their music became internationally acclaimed composers began to
invite the Swingle Singers to perform their works which specially
fit the group. One example of that was Luciano Berio, the Italian
avant-garde composer. In 1969 he invited them to perform "Sinfonia,"
written for eight mixed voices and orchestra. Since the recorded premiere
with the New York Philharmonic, they have performed it over three
Ward Swingle went to England in 1973, he had an idea to form Swingles
II with an expanded repertoire which would be more adequately supported
by the large choral traditions of English music. He continued actively
with the group until 1985 when he returned to the United States and
spent ten years lecturing, doing seminars and guest conducting. The
Swingle Singers have continued, with Ward as musical advisor, to this
merely continued, they have expanded their repertoire unceasingly.
Their staging is fabulous, their performances sublime. From 1999 we
have a whole new group of singers who will no doubt build on the foundation
created by all the prior Swingles and delight us no end, continuing
one of the cleverest and most graceful singing traditions in the world.
It's their turn!
Back to top