The Four Vagabonds

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The Four Vagabonds was an African-American male vocal group of the mid 20th century. Active for twenty years (1933–1953), they form a bridge between vocal quartet jive of the 1930s and the rhythm and blues vocal groups that thrived after World War II.[1]

The Four Vagabonds were formed in 1933 by four students at Vashon High School in St. Louis: John Jordan (lead singer), Norval Taborn (baritone), Robert O'Neal (tenor), and Ray Grant (bass; Grant also played guitar accompaniment). Their early work showed strong Mills Brothers influence.[2][3][4]

They first appeared on college radio, then on WIL, and then on NBC Radio on KSD. This led to a 1936 move to Chicago radio, including Don McNeill's Breakfast Club and Garry Moore's Club Matinee.Throughout the 1940s the Four Vagabonds made network radio appearances on many national shows,including the Chesterfield Supper Club, the Nat King Cole Show, and others.[2][3][4]

On April 1, 1949, during the pioneering early days of television, the local variety show Happy Pappy premiered on the local Chicago station WENR-TV. Hosted by Ray Grant and featuring the Four Vagabonds (as well as the Modern Modes and other groups), it was the first all-African-American television show, although short-lived.[5][3]

The group continued into the 1950s, with successive replacements (Bill Sanford, Frank Houston) for Ray Grant, who had vision problems. Their last release was a re-issue "P.S. I Love You", in 1953.[2][3]

In the 1980s original member John Jordan put together a new Four Vagabonds group. In 1997 Billy Shelton, who was a member of the 1980s incarnation, started another Four Vagabonds.[3]


  1. ^ "Four Vagabonds". Retrieved February 12, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c J. C. Marion (2004). "Remembered : The Four Vagabonds". The World of Marion – Net E-zines, Issue # 36. Retrieved February 12, 2017.[better source needed]
  3. ^ a b c d e "The Four Vagabonds". Harmony Train. Retrieved February 12, 2017.
  4. ^ a b Jim Dunn & Nikki Gustafson. "About The Four Vagabonds". MTV Artists. MTV. Retrieved February 12, 2017.
  5. ^ "April 1, 1949: The First all-Black Television show". April 1, 2014. Retrieved February 12, 2017.

External links[edit]

  • Rick Whitesell, Pete Grendysa, George Moonoogian, and Marv Goldberg (September 1976). "The 4 Vagabonds". Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebook. Retrieved February 12, 2017.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)