Female artists in the mid 60’s were breaking the music mold in a male
dominant world in the R&B field. One particular singer from the Golden
State would continue to carry the torch and light it for an external
flame to continue to glow in our musical minds forever.
Bettye Swann was born Betty Jean Champion on Oct 24, 1944 in
Shreveport, Louisiana. She sang at church and other social gatherings
during her adolescent years. She and her family moved to Los Angeles
in the late1950’s. During her high school years she sang in a group
called the Fawns.
Hoping to succeed in the music business, she changed her last name
from ‘Champion’ to ‘Swann’. Bettye said in a 1972 interview with Blues
& Soul magazine how she came up with the name. She linked her former
group the Fawns with a 'swan' and added an 'e' to Betty to be
different. She also didn't want her last name to be associated with
On her 20th birthday, Bettye signed with Money Records, owned and
operated by Ruth Dolphin, wife of the late record entrepreneur, John
Dolphin. John was legendary in the music business in L.A. He and his
wife owned a record store (Dolphin’s Record Store) on Vernon and
Central Ave. It wasn’t just your average record store, it was a base
for popular deejays like Dick ‘Huggie Boy’ Hugg broadcasting his radio
show from a small booth in a storefront window. The Money label was
reactivated by Ruth Dolphin in the early 60’s after her husband’s
She recorded her first single ‘Don’t Wait Too Long’ composed by the
late Carolyn Franklin (sister of Aretha Franklin). The song hit No 27
R&B the week ending April 10, 1965. Two other singles, 'The Man That
Said No' and ’The Heartache Is Gone sank without a trace during
Bettye would propel to stardom with her masterpiece composition ’Make
Me Yours' b/w ' I Will Not Cry'. The session took place on Friday
February 3, 1967 at Audio Arts Studios. The session players were James
Carmichael (future producer for the Commodores) on piano, Bob West
(who wrote the Jackson 5 classic 1970 hit ' I'll Be There') on
bass, legendary artist Roy Ayers along with Alton Hammond and Gary
Coleman on vibes, Charles Wright (of the group the Soul Runners and
leader of the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm band) and Les Buie on guitars.
The horn players were Jackie Kelso on tenor sax, John Williams on
baritone sax. Melvin Moore and Freddie Hill on trumpets and John Ewing
on trombone. The song hit No 1 R&B on July 22, 1967 for two weeks. Her
next single, 'Fall In Love With Me' b/w ’Lonely Life' hit No 36 R&B
the week ending Nov 4, 1967. After two minor releases, ' Don't Look
Back ' (The Temptations' classic 65' hit) b/w 'You Gave Me Love' and
'Don't Take My Mind' b/w ' I Think I'm Falling In Love' and a
self-titled LP ' Make Me Yours' that failed to chart, Bettye departed
from the Money label after her contract expired in
the summer of 1968.
She moved to Athens, Ga and married her manager, George Barton and
signed with Capitol Records in October of 1968. Her producer was Wayne
Shuler, son of legendary producer of Goldband Records, Eddie Shuler.
He worked as an A&R man and produced some of singer / songwriter Joe
South’s hit records on Capitol.
Wayne introduced country flavor material to Bettye who was reluctant
but though friendly persistent persuaded Bettye that it was the right
material for her. Her first hit for Capitol was a Hank Cochran
composition entitled, ‘Don’t Touch Me’. It hit No 14 R&B the week
ending March 29, 1969. That was her only hit for the label, although
Capitol released 11 uncharted singles on her from1969-70’. An LP ‘The
Soul View Now!’ hit No 48 R&B on June 29, 1969.
Bettye inked a deal with Fame Records owned by Rick Hall and cut one
single, ‘I Can’t Let You Break My Heart’ b/w ‘I’m Just Living A Lie’
in March 1971. The legendary Fame Studios was located in Muscle
Keeping the same roster of musicians at Muscle Shoals, she recorded
two masterpieces, ‘Victim of a Foolish Heart’ b/w Cold Day In Hell (No
16 R&B July 1, 1972) and a Merle Haggard / Buck Owens composition
‘Today I Started Loving You Again’ b/w I Rather Go Blind’ (No 26 R&B
Feb 17, 1972). An early version of this song is featured on her 1969
Capitol LP, ‘Don’t You Ever Get Tired Of Hurting Me’.
Betty also recorded at the legendary Sigma Sound Studio in
Philadelphia where she charted three more singles for the Atlantic
label ‘Til I Get It Right’ b/w ‘ Yours Until Tomorrow’ (a 1968 hit for
Vivian Reed) (No 71 Sept 1973) ‘The Boy Next Door’ b/w ‘Kiss My Love
Goodbye’ (No 71 June 1974) and ‘All The Way In or All The Way Out’ b/w
‘Doin’ It For The One I Love’ (June 1975). The Nashville Abet label
re-released an LP of her Money recordings
including a single in 1973 ‘ Don’t Wait Too Long’ b/w ‘I Can’t Stop
Loving You’. In 1976, Bettye recorded her last single, the Billy
Vera-Judy Clay 1967 interracial classic ‘ Storybook Children’ b/w
‘Just As Sure’ with legendary singer/ songwriter Sam Dees on Big Tree
(distributed by Atlantic Records).
Bettye’s association with the music business didn’t come without
problems riving through Mississippi one day with her husband and
manager George Barton and singer and good friend Candi Staton, they
stopped at a local gas station. While Bettye’s husband filled the tank
with gas, Candi and Bettye asked the attendant could they use their
restroom. The attendant quoted, ‘Our bathroom ain’t for n*****s’. They
paid the attendant for the pumped gas and hurried out of there.
Wayne Shuler wanted Bettye to duet on a slower version of ‘Today I
Started Loving You Again’ with country legend Buck Owens. After he cut
the tune with both singers, Ken Nelson who head of the country
division at Capitol Records practically had a fit and said that if the
people at Capitol would not support a interracial duet fearing that it
would damage Buck’s career.
Bettye quit the music business during the late 70’s. She moved to Las
Vegas with her husband George who she later divorced. He passed away
years ago. She became involved in the educational system working with
children and enjoys her occupation. She said that loved singing and
making music but it was a lot of rough times.
Bettye Swann is one of the great underrated talents of our time. Her
contribution to country-soul should be duly noted greatly and
appreciated not only but underground soul fans only but just music
fans in general.
Thanks Bettye, we’ll never stop loving you and we always continue to
(Chancellor of Soul)
not be used or altered without the expressed permission of the author,