Gary Troxel (b. November 28, 1939, Centralia, Washington) and Gretchen Christopher (b. February 29, 1940, Olympia, Washington) were two high school students waiting for Christopher's mother to pick them up after school. They started singing and humming a song together, and liked it enough to ask Christopher's friend and singing partner, Barbara Ellis (b. February 20, 1940, Olympia, Washington), to join them as a trio to perform it.
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. It would top the pop charts and make it to the top five of the rhythm & blues charts. "Come Softly to Me" was also recorded by Frankie Vaughan and The Kaye Sisters, who had a chart hit in the United Kingdom with the song. The Fleetwoods' version of "Come Softly To Me" can be heard on a portable radio at one point in the 1986 movie, Stand By Me, which was set in Washington state.
Bob Reisdorf, the owner of Dolphin Records (later changed to Dolton Records), was responsible for the changes to the group name and song title. He thought that the title was too risque and not commercial-sounding enough, so he had it changed to "Come Softly to Me". He also thought that the group's original name wasn't commercial-sounding enough. The new name of the group, The Fleetwoods, was based on the telephone exchanges in the areas where the three members lived, Fleetwood2-xxxx and Fleetwood7-xxxx.
The Fleetwoods continued to record into the 1960s, with a number of other successes. Their second hit, "Mr. Blue," also topped the pop charts. They would hit the top ten one more time with "Tragedy" in 1961. The beginning of the end for the group came when Troxel was drafted into the U.S. Navy. Additionally, the British Invasion of the mid 1960s ended the public's taste for sweet, melodic music.
By the late 1970s, Troxel was working in a plywoodplant, Ellis was managing a trailer park in Canada, and Christopher was a housewife and modern danceteacher. Ellis is now retired from performing. Troxel formed a new Fleetwoods group in the 1980s; Christopher also has resumed her music career, billing herself as "Gretchen Christopher of the Fleetwoods." Both Troxel and Christopher continue to perform and occasionally release new recordings. The group was inducted into the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame in 2005.
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.