The Swan Silvertones

Listen to “Mary, Don’t You Weep”

The Swan Silvertones

Formed 1938, Coalwood, McDowell County

The Swan Silvertones were one of the greatest gospel quartets of the ’50s and ’60s. The group, originally called The Four Harmony Kings, and then the Silvertone Singers, was founded in 1938 by Claude Jeter, an Alabama native who moved to McDowell County to work in the mines. One of the original members was Solomon Womack whose nephew, Bobby Womack, became a star in soul and rock.

Moving to Knoxville, TN, the group was hired by a local radio program that was sponsored by the local Swan Bakery and renamed the Swan Silvertones. The Swans were one of the first gospel groups to add instruments to its a capella sound. Jeter received many offers to perform R&B and rock ’n’ roll, but chose to honor a commitment he had made to his mother that he would always sing for the Lord.

With an angelic falsetto, elements of Jeter’s style were picked up by later singers including Sam Cooke and Al Green. A line from the group’s 1961 song “Mary, Don’t You Weep” – “I’ll be a bridge over deep water if you trust in my name” – inspired Paul Simon to write his 1970 hit, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Simon hired Jeter to sing on his 1973 LP, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, and gave Jeter $1,000 for inspiring “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” In 1991, Jeter released his only solo recording, Yesterday and Today.

Claude Jeter died in 2009 at a home for the elderly in the Bronx.