60s Music

Introduction to the Fleetwoods

The FleetwoodsThe Fleetwoods’ career at a glance

The Fleetwoods were a doo-wop/pop vocal group who achieved some measure of success as one of the few white vocal groups to have not only scored hits on the pop chart but on the R&B singles chart as well. They’re now fondly remembered by their first charting single and #1 hit “Come Softly To Me” in 1959. They consisted of Gary Troxel, Gretchen Christopher and Barbara Ellis. It was Christopher who wrote their hit song “Come Softly to Me.” When The Fleetwoods finally got a chance to record the song, it after became an instant hit after its release, topping the Hot 100 in 1959. However, the group were unable to match the success of their first single, although their following singles such as “Mr. Blue” and “Tragedy” both reached the Top 10, with the former peaking at #1. And also due to Troxel’s enlistment in the US Navy in the late 1950s, the Fleetwoods never sustained their popularity and success. They disbanded in 1963, but reunited in the 1990s to do a tour and release a “best-of” compilation album.

How did the Fleetwoods get together and start an act?

The Fleetwoods were an American doo-wop and pop vocal group who existed between the late 1950s and the early 1960s. During their heyday, The Fleetwoods were one of those rare white groups who managed to score hits not only on the pop charts but also on the R&B charts as well.

The group was formed in Olympia, Washington in 1958. The Fleetwoods were Gary Troxel, Gretchen Christopher and Barbara Ellis, who had known each other since childhood. They also attended the same high school. Originally, best friends Christopher and Elllis were a duo, but they became a trio when they soon persuaded Troxel to accompany their singing with a trumpet. However, Troxel soon discontinued playing the trumpet and concentrated on singing as well.

The Fleetwoods’ first number one hit with “Come Softly to Me”

Christopher wrote “Come Softly to Me” herself, originally as “Come Softly.” They used to sing this song at various school functions either by a cappella or accompanied by some instrument.

The song and the group eventually caught the attention of Dolphin Records’ Bob Reisdorff, who eventually signed the trio. “Come Softly to Me” was released on that label, and by the time the single was released, Dolphin changed its name into Dolton. “Come Softly to Me” turned out to be an immediate hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959. It also went #5 on the US R&B chart, #1 on the Canadian singles chart, and #6 on the British chart.

 

The groups’ second number one hit with “Mr. Blue”; lineup changes

Their follow-up single “Graduation Day,” were written by all of the members. But unlike their first single, “Graduation Day” barely inched its way into the Top 40.

The Fleetwoods bounced back with “Mr. Blue” (written by Dewayne Blackwell) in 1959. The single was to be their second and last number hit on the pop chart. It also placed #3 on the R&B singles chart. But the band wasn’t too consistent in their chart performance especially after Troxel was drafted into the Navy in 1959. Troxel was temporarily replaced by Vic Dana, who went on to have a successful singing and recording career of his own.

 

The Fleetwoods’ other hits

The group’s other singles were only minor charters, although they scored their last Top 10 pop hit with “Tragedy” (written by Gerald H. Nelson and Fred B. Burch) in 1961. Other decent hits were “Outside My Window” (#28 pop, 1960), “Runaround” (#23 pop, 1960), “(He’s) The Great Imposter” (#30 pop, 1961), “Lovers by Night, Strangers by ay” (#36 pop, #14 easy listening, 1962), and “Goodnight My Love” (#32 pop, #12 adult contemporary, 1963).

Disbandment and reunion

The Fleetwoods disbanded in 1963, following the release of their last Top 40 single “Goodnight My Love”, their cover of a Jesse Belvin original. Three decades later, The Fleetwoods reunited with Troxel, Christopher and a new member in the name of Cheryl Huggins (Ellis had since retired from singing) to do a tour to perform their old classics to nostalgic audiences, following the release of the compilation disc on Rhino records, The Best of The Fleetwoods.

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