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Ward Swingle, Founder of the Swingle Singers, Dead at 87

Vocal group wed classical melodies with jazz rhythms and harmonies

The Swingle Singers in 1964
Ward Swingle

Ward Swingle, the founder of the Swingle Singers vocal group, died Jan. 19 in Eastbourne, England, of an unspecified cause. Swingle was 87.

The Swingle Singers, formed in Paris in 1962, were known primarily for taking classical works and rearranging them with jazz rhythms and harmonies, sung a cappella or with double bass and drums. The original octet configuration included two sopranos, two altos, two tenors and two basses.

Ward Swingle-an American who was born Sept. 21, 1927 in Mobile, Ala., and moved to France on a Fulbright scholarship in 1951 after marrying a French woman-had previously played clarinet and other instruments in high school big bands. Once in Paris he studied piano and sang with a French group called Les Double Six. He learned scat singing while working with this outfit and devised the concept of the Swingle Singers at the start of the ’60s. Their debut album, 1963’s Jazz Sébastien Bach, set the pace for the group’s experimental fusions of genres-they recorded with the Modern Jazz Quartet and dabbled in other jazz-related projects but remained primarily committed to classical-music-based vocalizing.

By 1973, the original group’s members had departed and Ward Swingle started a new group of Swingles (as they were sometimes called) in London. The later lineups expanded the group’s range by recording songs by the Beatles, Björk and other contemporary artists.

A version of the Swingle Singers, featuring no original members, is still in existence today. The group issued an announcement confirming Ward Swingle’s death.

Originally Published