Hal Kratzsch Bob Flanigan
Bill Comstock Ken Albers
Gary Lee Rosenberg
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).
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.
In 1950, The Four Freshmen got a break when band leader Stan Kenton heard the quartet in Dayton, Ohio, and arranged for an audition with his label, Capitol Records, which signed The Four later that year. In 1952, they released their first hit single "It's a Blue World". Further hits included "Mood Indigo" in 1954, "Day by Day" in 1955, and "Graduation Day" in 1956.
The Four Freshmen won Best Vocal Group of the Year in Down Beat magazine's Readers' Polls in 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1958, 2000, and 2001.
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).
Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, The Four Freshmen released a number of recordings, made film and television appearances, and performed in concert. The group eventually lost their mainstream following with the advent of the British pop bands of the 1960s. 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 65-year history, The Four Freshmen had twenty-three different line-ups and twenty-four different members. The 2013 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. 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 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.