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The Four Freshmen

The Four Freshmen were one of the top vocal groups of the 1950s, and formed the bridge between '40s ensembles like the Mel-Tones and harmony-based rock & roll bands such as the Beach Boys as well as groups like Spanky & Our Gang and the Manhattan Transfer. The group's roots go back to the end of the 1940s and a barbershop quartet-influenced outfit called Hal's Harmonizers, organized at the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Butler University in Indiana by two brothers, Ross and Don Barbour. Their repertoire centered on standards such as "Moonglow" and "The Christmas Song," and they began to show an unusually free, improvisational approach to their harmony singing. A couple of membership changes brought Bob Flanigan, a cousin, into the fold alongside Hal Kratzsch, and suddenly the Four Freshmen were assembled in all but name, and that fell into place a little later.

The group struggled for a long time, living hand-to-mouth while building a repertoire and a sound -- many people who've heard the group's records or are familiar with their sound are unaware that they were also completely self-contained instrumentally, each member playing more than one instrument and allowing the others to switch off to different roles. They came to attention of various jazz figures of the era, including Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman, and Stan Kenton, and it was Kenton who took matters into his own hands, bringing the group to the attention of Capitol Records, where the bandleader had a longstanding relationship. Thus began a long and fruitful relationship with the label, initially under the guidance of arranger Pete Rugolo -- gigs followed on The Steve Allen Show (then one of the top-rated entertainment showcases on television) and with Ray Anthony's band; they also managed to make an appearance in the MGM movie Rich, Young and Pretty.

Their first hit single was "It's a Blue World," released in 1952, and they enjoyed further success with "Mood Indigo" (1954), "Day By Day" (1955), and "Graduation Day" (1956). They released their first LP, Voices in Modern, in 1955 (and some dozen more 12" discs over the next five years); that album was as impressive a jazz document as it was a vocal pop effort, showcasing the group members' playing as well as their singing and showing that these guys had lots of complex musical strings in their bow. It was on these albums that the quartet also showed itself to be a very smart outfit, not just in musical terms but logistically as well. Rather than simply doing any 12 songs that might have been working well in its stage act, the group made these releases into conceptual works, either musically (built around the sounds achieved by combinations of the group's sound and specific accompaniments, such as Four Freshmen and 5 Trombones, Four Freshmen and Five Guitars, etc.) or as thematic arrays of songs (such as Voices in Love and Voices in Latin).

This approach to devising and creating albums (which paralleled the kind of work that Frank Sinatra was doing concurrently on the same label) would have an influence on groups like the Beach Boys that was nearly as important as their harmony sound; it's also an important reason why, in combination with their virtuosity, their albums have held up so well across 40 years. Their sound and range were helped by the fact that their benefactor, Kenton, was on the same label, which made it possible for them to record together on occasion. Most of their late-'50s albums were good sellers -- most have been reissued several times on vinyl and CD -- and they had no shortage of top bookings and top pay to keep them going into the early '60s.

There were membership changes along the way -- Kratzsch left in the spring of 1953, to be replaced by Ken Errair who, in turn, was succeeded by Ken Albers in April of 1956, while Don Barbour left in 1960, replaced by Bill Comstock. That lineup lasted intact for nearly 13 years, into the 1970s, but by that time the group's influence had faded to almost nothing. The Four Freshmen had managed to stay competitive with other pop acts through the mid-'60s, and even got a very visible boost from the Beach Boys, in the form of Brian Wilson's frequent expressions of admiration for the quartet as part of his inspiration behind putting together the rock & roll group's sound, but following the arrival of the British Invasion, they were no longer anywhere near the cutting edge of pop music. They continued to record and perform, even assimilating such contemporary songs as Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," but they were effectively relegated to the "easy listening" stations. Their contract with Capitol ended in 1964, and the group's last affiliation with a major label was in the second half of the decade with Liberty Records, which yielded four LPs but no hits. By 1977, Bob Flanigan was the last original member, and he retired in 1992. Flanigan died of heart failure at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada on May 15, 2011 and cousin Ross Barbour, the last of the original Four Freshmen, died of lung cancer in Simi Valley, California three months later, on August 20, 2011.

New lineups of the group (including the latter-day quartet of Brian Eichenberger, Curtis Calderon, Bob Ferreira, and Vince Johnson) have continued to perform into the second decade of the 21st century, however, and have been considered an artistically valid ensemble. (In 2000 the Four Freshmen were voted Vocal Group of the Year by Down Beat magazine's readers.) And in 2001, no less a label than Mosaic Records -- the company that issues complete catalogs of jazz legends going back to the 1930s, in deluxe packaging -- released a multi-CD box of the Four Freshmen's complete 1950s recordings, proudly (and even defiantly, given the label's catalog) proclaiming the quartet's validity as a jazz outfit. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

Forgot to mention I started listening to them in 1954 and I first saw them live in 1957 in San Francisco, then Las Vegas (twice), Phoenix (three times).

Great memories!!!! ! ! !
Fortunate to have seen the original Freshmen several times and identified with their music like no other group. Met Bob Flannigan when he formed the New group.

Will be a fan until the day I die.

Best vocal group EVER!

May they all rest in peace.
I've been a Freshman since 1955 and will be one forever. Their unique sound and approach to the jazz genre is without parallel.

The best!
kmlarsenod
The world's best sound kml Las Vegas
jbm39
Took 'em with me to college in 1957; saw them in an open-air concert in late 60's; never lost love of their signature jazzy style. My all-time favorite vocal group!
niftyrose1
saw them in concert in Newton N.J. Harmonies blew me away
webersf
Always a big jazz fan i am thus I always loved the Four Freshmen
I can hear their influence on Singers Unlimited and Take 6. These guys were doing Jazz harmonics in their sound before anybody. I know thats arguable..ho w e v e r Gene Perlum of S.U. was listening and took it even furthur !
792260703
The Four Freshmen,wit h o u t a doubt, make other similar groups listen in awe!
When I heard It's A Blue World on a jukebox in my home town in Gladstone, Michigan I became an instant and life-long Freshmen fan. For my money they have had more musical talent than any four musicians who have ever worked together. The current version is superbly multi-talent e d . I can think of no other group that has had as much success vocally and instrumental l y in my lifetime. Bill Cannon Class of 1951
roycboyer
Group was The Total Package. Gave old tunes new life. Provided fans with new tunes. Played so many instruments and so well! Is it any wonder that it was The Four Freshmen that gave birth to The Beach Boys?? Roy Boyer, Boulder CO
My Dad went to high school with Ross Barbour in Indiana. In 1969 my family went to see my favorite singer, Glen Campbell. My Dad managed to talk to Ross Barbour during the intermission and I managed to get into Glen's dressing room and got his autograph, thanks to Ross! He even visited out house, Ross did, when the group was near the city where we lived. The Four Freshmen are the BEST VOCAL GROUP EVER!!! There may be imitations but they are the best!!!!
The best group ever! The new guys sure picked up where the originals left off! Have always loved these guys!!!! Roger
mooyoo.77
at first I didn`t think this group could live up to the first freshmen, but after seeing them 2010& 2011 I am convinced that they live up to talents of any I mean any group , BOB FLANIGAN himself said this present F.F. group is the best group ever I agree; R.I.P. original FRESHMEN
My brother and I grew up listening to the Four Freshmen in the late 50's and 60's. Our dad's favorite group. Great harmonies. We just saw Brian, Bob, Curtis and Vince at the Stoneham Theatre and their sound is as good as the sound I remember back in the 60's. And all week I have been singing in my head It's a Blue World, Poinciana, Day by Day, Day in Day out, Polkadots & moonbeams, and many more. A great show and our hope is that the Four Freshmen will continue to came back to the Stoneham T
wizardmuse
There were many college groups that patterned themselves after the Four Freshmen. They created a new sound and were the first vocal group to actually do their own instrumental backup. When It's a Blue World came out no one could believe it was just four guys making all that music. I transcribed all their vocals for my quartet. When we went to their performance in Lubbock, Texas, we went backstage and sang for them. They were such great guys that we stood in a circle singing with them.
...jvg

courtneymine h a r t
Saw them at Facts in San Francisco in the fifties! Have several of their LPs and agree that their sound was unique!! CourtneyM
asper.ray
I was saddened to learn of the deaths of the last original members this year (2011) ... Bob Flanigan and Ross Barbour. I first heard their truly unique sound as I was falling asleep to Ray Star's Stars In The Night
radio show in Waterloo, Iowa (1952/53). Their unusual harmony in It's A Blue World got my attention immediately, and I've been a fan ever since. There's never been a replacement for them, though I think of the King Sisters as a sort of female version of The Four Freshmen.
niftyrose1
Great harmonies! The group I was in had geat harmonies like the Freshmen! I miss my group The Roy Meyer Swingers. Music does soothe the savage beast!
The last original member is now gone. What a wonderful
group of entertainers they were. Nothing else quite like
them. God bless them all.
kmlarsenod
There may have been some groups like the Freshman but no one has the sound. The new group is as close to the original as I have heard yet. I first heard them in the middle 50's and have been a fan ever since. I always go to see them when they are in Las Vegas. I went to see them in 1964 at the Coconut Grove in Hollywood with George Shearing and have never forgotten it. Play on and keep the sound going.
The Az.Shaws In July of 1954, a boy I had met at work asked me out. After the movie we sat on my couch and played "I'll Be Seeing You" by the Four Freshmen. Our first kiss happened then! Here it is 2011 and that boy has been my husband for 52 years, after dating for 5 years before that. We still love our "Freshmen" and will most likely buy the complete set from the 50's, the greatest era of our kind of music!!
scaup1
over 25 years of this groups music and i still feel few if any harmonizers come close to the kind of sound and taste these guys brought to the world
bertlois2
They are the best The Four Freshmen Brian Bob Vince and Curtis BWFeineigle
gldellford
After all the many years the FF have been my favorite musicians, I still get chills when I listen to them... the unique blend, the close harmony, and the true musicianship . The years just drop away when I play my LP's, my 45's, my CD's, and each time I see the group live. Thankfully, the sound perpetuates. It's "comfort food" for the soul.
caramia_chul i t a
I have been a fan since they first started....h a v e seen them in person
three times..and I still play them often and love them...Bob Flannigan
was the greatest improvement. . . . l o v e the close Harmony...La d s , Ames...rate them the same..love them...play them all every day...have them in my ipod...thank s Pandora, you are the greatest to keep this music alive..the horrid stuff today..not music..CaraM i a , Ohio
In college in the mid-50's, I was a member of a quartet that patterned itself after the the popular Four Freshman and the HiLo's. I loved the sound...saw them, in the new version, recently at Phila. at the Barbershop Convention in July, 2010 and although a different group, they sounded terrific, as always. Loved them.
My all-time favorite group in the 50's+. The music takes me right back!!
I had a standing order for any new releases from the record shop at Penn State in the early to mid 50's-we danced to their music at weekend fraternity parties
This group brings back high school memories. I have seen them twice and I would love to see them perform again,
Love this group. I have seen them in person four times, the first time in 1955 and the last on May 15th, 2010. They are as good as they ever were!!
This edition of the Four Freshmen is probably the best the group has sounded in decades. Marvelous entertainers and nice guys, too.
mooyoo.77
the 1st group will always rule without a doubt.
mooyoo.77
I CAN`T WAIT FOR THE FF CONVENTION IN AUGUST IN APP.,MARYLAN D .
I first heard of The Four Freshmen while I was serving in the Army in Stuttgart, Germany in 1956 and loved their music. I have seen them perform in my home town in New Orleans multiple times. Their music is timeless. My favorite song is "It Happened Once Before". Thanks for renewing great memories.
FF is a great group--all versions of it! I saw one the early versions in 1958 in Raleigh when I was a freshman at NC State. I was already a jazz fan (there weren't that many around then), and the Freshmen just blew me away. I saved up quite a collection over the years and it now rests safely on my iPod. I think the current group is one of the best ever. But, I'm very afraid the FF fans are getting old and dying out...I hope not. I really appreciate Pandora and what it does for all of us and good
mcda.dcg
very nice song. it brings back happy memories.
rcsher
I have been a FF fan since I first heard "It's A Blue World" and "Graduation Days". I have several of their albums (including some of the original 33's) and CD's. They are my favorite vocal group. Needless to say I'm 70 years old now. I saw them perform live in the early 60's at a local club. I feel sorry for today's young people who have never heard what good music sounds like.
It's a Blue World when the original band retired. Few people realized the musical talent these fellows had not only vocally but instrumental l y as well!
And all of the guys, at least, doubled on more than one instrument.
Saw the FF twice while at WVU. They were the "band" for a couple of campus dances. Bad choice for a dance. Few people danced..most just stood in front of the stage luxuriating in the sound. I'm in my early 70s and I still play my albums, cassettes, and CDs. Can't hit the Flanigan falsetto like I used to, however (neither can the new FF singer!) SPINDLES...a r e you out there?
My father (since passed) has several vinyl albums from the Four Freshmen. He used to play them at home and I'd sit and listen and actually enjoy it even though I was a rock-n-rolle r kid in the 70's and 80's. Good stuff....I enjoy listening to them even to this day.
What memories I have when I listen to the Four Freshmen! A wonderful, wonderful era! The youngsters of today have missed so much.

Imagine 50 years from now a tatooed granny rocking in her chair to the beat of the music of today.
Even with the deaths and retirement of the original group the new "kids" are carrying on the tradition! I've been a FF fan for about 50 years! Damn, I'm getting old, too. And I'm retired!
Hey...I played 3rd trombone behind Jim Packer (2nd) & Malcomb Hale, Shaker Hts AHIA & when we got breaks, we did 3 part harmony in the Boys Room on the second floor, just outside the "Band Room!" Mal was the vicarious ...ba-boom-b a - b o o m - b a voice of Spanky & Our Gang! He could make toilet seats flutter!... & Arden Frederick (8th grade English teacher) semi-suspend class so the kids could listen to us! I'm not making this up! Zuck, Shaker Hts HS 59-60
rknowles95
OUTSTANDING
stalkerda
when you hear groups like this you feel sorry for todays generation. They are so woefully shortchanged .

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