The Four Freshmen
|The Four Freshmen|
|Genres||Jazz, Classic pop, Barbershop|
|Labels||Capitol, Liberty, Pausa Records, Coronet, Stylist, Creative World, Kahoots, Phonorama, Pickwick, Sunset, Crystal, Four Freshmen Society|
|Past members||Ross Barbour
Gary Lee Rosenberg
For the Irish showband, see The Freshmen (band)
The Four Freshmen is an American male vocal band quartet that blends open-harmonic jazz arrangements with the big band vocal group sounds of The Modernaires (Glenn Miller), The Pied Pipers (Tommy Dorsey), and The Mel-Tones (Artie Shaw), founded in the barbershop tradition. The Four Freshmen is considered a vocal band because the singers accompany themselves on guitar, horns, bass, and drums, among other instrumental configurations.
The last original member retired in 1993, but the group still tours internationally to sold-out audiences and has recorded jazz harmonies since its late '40s founding in the halls of the Jordan School of Music at Butler University (Indianapolis).
- 1 Beginnings and early success
- 2 Decline and later existence
- 3 Members
- 4 Four Freshmen Society
- 5 Style
- 6 Recognition
- 7 Influence
- 8 Discography
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Beginnings and early success
In early 1948, brothers Ross and Don Barbour, then at Butler University's Arthur Jordan Conservatory in Indianapolis, Indiana, formed a barbershop quartet called Hal's Harmonizers. The Harmonizers also included Marvin Pruitt — soon replaced by Ross and Don's cousin Bob Flanigan — and Hal Kratzsch (1925–70), replaced in 1953 by Ken Errair. The quartet soon adopted a more jazz-oriented repertoire and renamed itself the Toppers. At first, they were influenced by Glenn Miller's The Modernaires and Mel Tormé's Mel-Tones, but soon developed their own style of improvised vocal harmony. In September 1948, the quartet went on the road as The Four Freshmen, and soon drew the admiration of jazz legends such as Dizzy Gillespie and Woody Herman.
On March 21, 1950, The Four Freshmen got a break when band leader Stan Kenton heard the quartet in Dayton, Ohio's, Esquire Lounge. He "had been told at his own show earlier that night about a quartet in town that sounded like his 43-piece ensemble", and was sufficiently impressed that he arranged for an audition with his label, Capitol Records, which signed them later that year. The demo included "Laura", "Basin' Street Blues", "Dry Bones" and two other songs.
Later in 1950, they released a single, "Mr. B's Blues", and appeared in their first and only film, Rich, Young, and Pretty.
The Freshmen released another single in 1951, '"Now You Know", which was not a commercial success. Later in the year Capitol rejected their proposed next single, "It's a Blue World", and dropped them from the label. In May of the following year, a furious Stan Kenton demanded that the record company send them the demo tapes so that they could promote the song themselves. They managed to get the song onto the radio, and in 1952, "It's a Blue World" became their first charted single, and Capitol re-signed the group in July of the same year.
In 1953, Hal Kratzsch, tired of touring, asked the group to replace him, and they selected Ken Errair. Their single to chart was "It Happened Once Before", and the year ended with them winning the Down Beat poll as Best Jazz Vocal Group of 1953.
In 1954, the Freshmen recorded their first album, Voices in Modern; "Mood Indigo", a single from this album, charted. The following year, they released "How Can I Tell Her" and "Charmaine", followed by "Graduation Day" in 1956.
After only a short time with the group, Ken Errair left the band to get married, and was replaced by Ken Albers. Around this time, the group also started playing at college auditoriums and pursuing a younger audience.
Decline and later existence
The group eventually lost their mainstream following with the advent of the rock bands of the 1960s, even as one of those bands, the Beach Boys, cited the Four Freshmen as one of their main influences.
The next Freshman to leave was Don Barbour, who left in 1960 and was replaced by Bill Comstock. In 1965 the group left Capitol, and began a number of brief stints at other labels. Over the course of the 70s and 80s, most of the original and near-original Freshmen left the group.
The group did not disband, however, even after the last original member, Bob Flanigan, retired in 1993. After his retirement Flanigan managed the group and owned the rights to The Four Freshmen name. He died on May 15, 2011 at the age of 84 from congestive heart failure. Ross Barbour died on August 20, 2011 from cancer at the age of 82.
During its long history, The Four Freshmen had twenty-three different line-ups among twenty-four different members. The Four Freshmen lineup of Brian Eichenberger (lead, bass, arranger), Stein Malvey (second voice, guitar), Curtis Calderon (third voice, trumpet, flugelhorn), and Bob Ferreira (fourth voice, drummer, soloist) was first established in 2013. They perform at upwards of 100 bookings a year.
Four Freshmen Society
The 21st International Four Freshmen Society Convention, "Back Home in Indiana", was held in Indianapolis, the home of Butler University, August 21–23, 2008. Six hundred of the approximately 3,000 Society members attended in honor of The Four Freshmen's 60th year of continual performance. Present were original Four Freshmen Barbour and Flanigan (now Butler honorary doctors) and the widow of Don Barbour. Former Four Freshmen Ray Brown (Group 5), Rod Henley (Groups 8 and 11), Kirk Marcy (Group 12), and Greg Stegeman (Groups 14-21) attended and performed along with then-current Four Freshmen Eichenberger, Calderon, Johnson, and Ferreira (Group 22).
The 22nd International Four Freshmen Society Convention was held August 20–22, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia. It is known as the "Blue Moon" convention. Former Freshmen Ross Barbour, Bob Flanigan, Rod Henley, Ray Brown, Autie Goodman, and Greg Stegeman (by phone) participated along with over 400 fans.
The 23rd International Four Freshmen Society Convention was held in Annapolis, Maryland August 19–21, 2010.
The 24th International Four Freshmen Society Convention was held at The Park Inn Hotel in Toledo, Ohio September 8–10, 2011.
The 25th International Four Freshmen Society Convention was held at Harrah's Reno Hotel and Casino in Reno, Nevada, October 4–6, 2012.
The 26th International Four Freshmen Society Convention will be held at the Grand Wayne Convention Center, Fort Wayne, Indiana, September 5–7, 2013. This convention honors 65 consecutive years of public performance by the Four Freshmen. The convention is on the site of the former "113 Club" where the Freshmen played their first professional gig on September 20, 1948.
The 27th International Four Freshmen Society Convention will be held at the Doubletree Tampa Westshore Hotel, Tampa, Florida, October 2–4, 2014.
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians says that, "The group represented a modernizing force in the sphere of close harmony quartets in American popular music, moving away from the barbershop style to introduce elements of jazz. In doing so, they influenced younger groups such as the Hi-Los and the Beach Boys." 
The Oxford Companion to Popular Music says "They sing with great variety, in quiet unison or full-throated harmony, using modern jazz harmonies and varied dynamics, a considerable advance on the typical close-harmony quartets that had preceded them."
The Four Freshmen have been honored with the following designations: JazzTimes magazine's Readers Poll Best Vocal Group (multiple wins), Down Beat magazine's Readers Poll Best Vocal Group (multiple wins), and Down Beat magazine's Readers Poll Hall of Fame finals (multiple years).
The Four Freshmen were nominated in the Grammy Vocal Group Performance category in 1958 for The Four Freshmen in Person (Capitol), 1961 for Voices in Fun (Capitol), 1962 for The Swingers (Capitol), 1964 for More Four Freshmen and Five Trombones (Capitol), and in 1986 for Fresh! (Pausa).
"In 1986 they received a Grammy nomination for their 41st LP Fresh in the category of Best Jazz Vocal Performance Duo or Group."
The Four Freshmen were an important influence on Brian Wilson, beginning in the mid-50s. He listened to one of their albums, The Four Freshmen and the Five Trombones, and it "mesmerized" him, and he spoke very highly of it; "'It brings a feeling of love inside me.... That feeling of harmony.'" Aside from listening to their music, the teenage Brian Wilson made a point of seeing the Four Freshmen perform live: "he made solitary pilgrimages to the resort hotels of Catalina Island to see the Four Freshmen"
Singles (A-side / B-side, release date, catalog number)
Note: The first fifteen singles ("Mr. B" through "Graduation Day") were also released as 78rpm Capitol discs, with the same stock numbers as above.
7 inch, 331⁄3 (small hole) promotional singles
- "A Visit with Bob Flanigan of The Four Freshmen" with Sun City Anthem's Channel 99's Music editor, Yvonne Cloutier
- Smith, William H. (2008-08-20). "A Vocal Group at the Top of Its Class". The Wall Street Journal. pp. D9.
- Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 20 – Forty Miles of Bad Road: Some of the best from rock 'n' roll's dark ages. [Part 1]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. Digital.library.unt.edu.
- Thedeadrockstarsclub.com - accessed August 2011
- The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Second Edition (2001), entry by Dave Laing, edited by Stanley Sadie, executive director John Tyrell, Grove: New York.
- The Oxford Companion to Popular Music (1991), Peter Gammond, Oxford University Press: Oxford, New York.
- In 1986 they received a Grammy nomination for their 41st LP Fresh in the category of Best Jazz Vocal Performance Duo or Group.
- Carlin, Peter Ames (2006), "Catch A Wave: The Rise, Fall & Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson": Rodale. p. 39
- Carlin, Peter Ames (2006), "Catch A Wave: The Rise, Fall & Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson": Rodale. p.43