William “Oliver” Swofford
William Oliver Swofford was born February 22, 1945 in North Wilkesboro. He was an honor student at Wilkes Central High School where his athletic ability was equaled only by the quality of his singing voice. He was an outstanding person, scholar, and human being. And, he went on to put North Wilkesboro on the map.
He began singing while at UNC Chapel Hill in the early sixties. Know then as Bill Swofford, he played with a bluegrass band called The Virginians. They recorded and toured but with little success.
In 1968, their manager brought them to legendary record producer Bob Crewe. He had the group change its name to the Good Earth and recorded an album, but they broke up soon after its release. The album failed to hit leaving Swofford with no band and no deal.
Fortunately, Crewe, had faith in Swofford. He had seen “Hair” and loved “Good Morning Starshine.” In 1969, He decided to use only Swofford’s middle name, cut the demo and took it to Jubilee Records. Oliver’s clean-cut good looks and soaring baritone were the perfect vehicle, the song reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in August 1969.
In October 1969, Crewe’s friendship with Rod McKuen led to Oliver’s next recording, the theme to “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.” “Jean” did even better than its predecessor, reaching #2 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the adult contemporary chart. It also sold over one million copies, garnering Oliver his second gold disc. Oliver performed both hits on a number of TV variety shows and specials in the late 1960s, including the Ed Sullivan Show.
Oliver’s debut album, Good Morning Starshine, stayed on Billboard’s album chart for an impressive 38 weeks.
Despite his vocal talents, Swofford could not sustain more hits. In 1983, People magazine ran a feature article, describing him as a happily married father who kept his distance from the music industry, selling real estate. He was later a business manager for a pharmaceutical company in Louisiana.
In the late 1990s, he was diagnosed with cancer. William Oliver Swofford died February 12, 2000 at the age of 54 in Shreveport, Louisiana. He is survived by his wife, Becky Jean, and two children, Beth and Rob.