The Fleetwoods' Gretchen Christopher

One of the few leap-year babies to make a mark on the pop charts is Gretchen Christopher, one-third of the pop-vocal trio the Fleetwoods, best known for their #1 1959 smash "Come Softly to Me."

Gretchen Diane Christopher was born Feb. 29, 1940, in Olympia, Wash. She formed the pop singing group Two Girls and a Guy in her hometown high school, with Barbara Laine Ellis and Gary Troxel in 1958. The girls had begun singing together as a duo and asked Troxel to play trumpet for them. After he played them a song he had written, Christopher and Ellis asked Troxel to join as an equal singer.

The trio began performing the song, "Come Softly to Me" (RealAudio excerpt), at local social functions as the Fleetwoods. The group was noticed by Seattle-based Dolphin Records owner Bob Reisdorff, who became their manager. The label issued the song, which quickly rose to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and to #5 on the R&B chart. The track, which featured the group's sweet, mellow harmonies, also made the UK top 10.

The Fleetwoods' succeeding 1959 hits included the #12 "Tragedy" and the #1 pop, top-five R&B "Mr. Blue" (from their debut LP of the same name), which DeWayne Blackwell originally wrote for the Platters. The Fleetwoods were one of the first white pop acts to do well on the R&B chart, and in 1962 they issued a popular greatest-hits album.

They had other minor hits, but the Fleetwoods' momentum was stalled when Troxel was drafted into the Navy at the peak of their success in 1959. He was eventually replaced by Vic Dana, who had a successful solo career in the '60s. The Fleetwoods officially disbanded in 1963 following a final top-40 hit, a cover of Jesse Belvin's "Goodnight My Love."

During the next three decades, the original Fleetwoods occasionally reunited to sing on the oldies circuit. In 1973 they came together briefly to record, but the results didn't match the group's early magic. In 1990 Christopher and Troxel gigged as the Fleetwoods, with Cheryl Huggins in Ellis' place, to capitalize on the release of Rhino Records' Fleetwoods retrospective, The Best of the Fleetwoods.

Capitol Records issued Come Softly to Me: The Very Best of the Fleetwoods in 1993. The collection, sporting a cover photo of Troxel in his Navy uniform, included such tracks as "Graduation's Here," "You Mean Everything to Me," "Outside My Window" and "The Last One to Know."

The Fleetwoods, thanks to their memorable ballads, are considered by many to be one of the classic vocal groups of the pre–British Invasion era.

Christopher continued to perform solo occasionally, while becoming a housewife and an instructor of modern dance.