The Fleetwoods were an American singing trio from Olympia, Washington, formed in the late 1950s. Its members were Gary Troxel (born November 28, 1939, Centralia, Washington), Gretchen Christopher (born February 29, 1940, Olympia, Washington), and Barbara Ellis (born February 20, 1940, Olympia, Washington). They recorded eleven hit songs, beginning with "Come Softly to Me".
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Troxel and Christopher were two high schoolers waiting for Christopher's mother to pick them up after school to take them home. They started singing and humming a song together. Christopher recognized that it was based on the same chord progression as the music she had been writing. She sang her melody and lyrics in counterpoint to his jazz riff. They liked it enough to ask Christopher's friend and singing partner, Ellis, to join them as a trio to perform it. The song was at first called "Come Softly" and the group was named "Two Girls and a Guy," but both were changed en route to the song becoming a hit. They performed the song twice at school functions and their classmates wanted recordings of it so they could learn the song. After six months, they got the track recorded. They sang it a cappella, then dubbed the instrumental accompaniment, consisting only of Latin-styled acoustic guitar and the rhythmic shaking of Troxel's car keys.
Christopher recorded the trio, a cappella, on her father's tape recorder and took the tape to Seattle record promoter Bob Reisdorff, who started Dolphin Records, later renamed Dolton Records, to record the trio and release the song. Over five months (June - November, 1958), they got the vocal track recorded. They sang it a cappella to the rhythmic shaking of Troxel's car keys. Co-producers Reisdorff and Bonnie Guitar flew with the tapes to Los Angeles where acoustic and bass guitars were overdubbed. The Fleetwoods' recording would top the U.S. pop chart and make it to the Top 5 of the Rhythm & Blues chart. "Come Softly To Me" was also covered by others. The UK's Frankie Vaughan and The Kaye Sisters had a Top 10 chart hit in the United Kingdom with the song, though The Fleetwoods exceeded them, simultaneously charting in the UK's Top 5.
Their second hit, "Graduation's Here" was co-written by Ellis and Christopher, with Troxel later adding a scat line in counterpoint. That one was followed by "Mr. Blue," which, like "Come Softly To Me", also topped the pop charts. This made the Fleetwoods the first group in the world to have multiple No. 1 Hits top The Billboard Hot 100 in a single year, and the first mixed-gender trio ever with more than one No. 1 hit. Also, on the Cash Box Top 50 for the full year of 1959, the Fleetwoods have two entries: "Come Softly To Me" and "Mr. Blue". There is no other group in that year's Top 50 with more than one record.
The Fleetwoods continued recording into the 1960s, with a number of other successes. They hit the Top 10 again with "Tragedy" in 1961. Though they went on to have a total of eleven hits on the Hot 100, the beginning of the end for the group came when Troxel had to fulfill his obligation to go onto active duty in the Navy. He joined the U.S. Navy Naval Reserve in 1956. Additionally, the British Invasion of the mid 1960s changed the public's taste. The trio's hits ended in 1963 with Barbara Ellis singing melody on "Goodnight My Love". Vic Dana, who was to go on to a successful solo career, replaced Troxel in the group when he was in the service, solely for live performances.
By the late 1970s, Troxel was working in a plywood plant in Washington; Ellis was managing a trailer park in California and Christopher was a housewife and modern jazz dance teacher in Washington at St. Martin's College and at The Evergreen State College. Ellis is now retired from performing. In 1983, Troxel gave his written resignation from The Fleetwoods leaving Christopher as manager with the sole authority to contract for both the original and replacement Fleetwoods. Troxel formed a new Fleetwoods group in the 1980s. His group has been performing regularly since the mid 80's doing several "oldies" concerts each year with two performances on the PBS Doo Wop series. See http://www.thefleetwoods.us.
While Christopher trained replacement Fleetwoods she also resumed her solo music career, billing herself as "Gretchen Christopher of the Fleetwoods." Both Troxel and Christopher each continue to perform and occasionally release new recordings. A new Fleetwoods version of "Graduation's Here" appeared on Christopher's autobiographical solo album, Gretchen's Sweet Sixteen (Suite 16) which is one of the 2007 Billboard critics' picks for 10 Best Albums of the Year. It included both the hit arrangement of "Come Softly To Me" and the a cappella "Come Softly", with Christopher singing all the parts.
Since their 1988 induction into the Northwest Area Music Association Hall of Fame, and their 2005 induction into the Olympia High School Alumni Association Hall of Fame, The Fleetwoods have been inducted into both the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame of America in 2006.
The November 2007 release of Gretchen's Sweet Sixteen (Suite 16) was launched in Las Vegas with the second Annual Cool Bobby B Doo Wop Convention and Grand Finale Concert, headlined by 'The Fleetwoods starring Gretchen Christopher.' A year later, though all three originals were inducted and invited to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, Christopher was the only original member of the Fleetwoods who accepted, attended and performed, dedicating songs to each of her absent partners. Troxel had every intention of attending but decided it was more important to be with his wife, because of her breast cancer treatment.
In 2000, Troxel and his wife Jenifer lost Troxel v. Granville, a landmark grandparents' rights case before the Supreme Court of the United States. The court held that under the United States Constitution, non-parents seeking custody or visitation rights of a child against the wishes of the child's parents must prove that the parents are not acting in the best interest of the child in refusing custody or visitation.
In 2008 and 2009, Christopher testified before the Washington State Senate in support of the Truth in Music Advertising Bill. In 2009, it passed both the House and Senate unanimously, and was signed into law by Governor Chris Gregoire. The law provides that a performing group shall not be advertised by the name of a recording group, unless the performing group includes from the hit-making recording group at least one original member who is authorized to use the name. That authorization resides solely with Christopher, according to the performance contract and resignation signed by Troxel.