SPRING HILL — Back in October 1958, 17-year-old Mary Swan seemed to have it all.
She was the little girl with the beautiful voice that so impressed American Bandstand host Dick Clark that he wanted her on his record label. She could count as friends teenage heartthrobs Fabian, Bobby Darin and Chubby Checker.
Though the door to success was wide open, Ms. Swan never walked through it. By the age of 20, the promising voice from Philadelphia had disappeared from the charts, leaving behind only records, including her best-known song, My Heart Belongs to You.
It would take Ms. Swan 25 years to return to making the music she loved.
"Music was always her release," Ms. Swan's daughter, Marti Carroll, said. "She poured her heart and soul into it right up to the end."
Ms. Swan died March 11, 2009, at age 68 after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. Her last time on stage was at a New Year's Eve dance at the Brookridge community center in Hernando County. Her friend Ken Brady of the doo-wop group the Casinos performed with her.
Despite her advanced illness, Ms. Swan was a trooper that night.
"People never knew how sick she was," Brady said. "I think that singing gave her strength."
Ms. Swan's exposure to music came at an early age. The daughter of a drummer and a singer with a nightclub band, she would often sing with groups at USO clubs around Philadelphia.
At the urging of friends, young Mary and her father booked time at a local studio to record a series of demos. While she was singing, Dick Clark came in to pick up a package. He liked what he heard and signed her to his Swan Records label.
Ms. Swan's first appearance on Clark's popular American Bandstand television program a few months later caused so much of a stir that the host had to quiet the audience in order to interview her.
The promise of fame was mercurial. At the time, the teen record market was flooded with hopeful artists looking for their big break. Thanks to Clark's connections with local radio stations, Ms. Swan's first release in 1957, Love Could Be Like This, got strong airplay in Philadelphia. But DJs in larger markets like New York and Chicago never embraced the song.
Ms. Swan's next release, My Heart Belongs to You, did well enough to land her on a traveling tour with stars such as Paul Anka, Danny and the Juniors and Pat Boone. Then came the letdown.
In 1959, Ms. Swan married Philadelphia musician Pete Carroll. Together they had a child. Her husband, a jealous and controlling man, forbade her to go on the road. Ms. Swan retreated to a life of domesticity.
"I think she always felt a little cheated by that," her daughter said. "Singing was such a big part of her life."
After her divorce from Carroll in the early 1970s, Ms. Swan returned to performing occasionally at nightclubs and weddings, singing mostly cover versions of other artists' songs. In 1990, she met and married keyboardist Bim Brown, who encouraged her to reconnect with her musical spirit.
After moving to Spring Hill in 1996, the couple began establishing themselves in Hernando's myriad dinner-dance venues. Ms. Swan organized occasional sock hops at the Knights of Columbus lodge in Spring Hill that often featured oldies artists such as Brady, as well as Richie Merritt of the Marcels.
After Brown's death from cancer two years ago, Ms. Swan decided she had had enough. But Brady managed to talk her out of it. "I reminded her of the people who would come out to hear her sing, and that kind of woke her up," he said. "Of course, we're all grateful that she came back to it. She's going to be missed."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.