The Four Lads were experts at close harmony and a cappella and were very much influenced by Negro spirituals and gospel music. They scored a number of pop Top 100 hits during the early '50s, including "The Mockingbird" (1952), "Skokian" (1954), "Moments to Remember" (1955), and "No, Not Much!" and "Standing on the Corner" (both in 1956). Their initial break came while backing Johnny Ray on his early-'50s hits "Cry" and "The Little White Cloud That Cried" for Columbia Records.
The Four Lads launched their professional career in 1950, singing in local clubs around Toronto, Canada. All of the original members had been choirboys. Lead vocalist Bernie Toorish (born John Bernard Toorish on March 2, 1931) had grown up in a musical family and began performing at the age of three. In elementary school, he studied violin and as an eighth grader at St. Michael Choir School, greatly impressed by the Golden Gate Quartet, he had already been performing gospel and church music with a group called the Jordanaires (not the backing vocalists for Elvis Presley). (Later, two of the singers later helped form the Crew Cuts.) In addition to Toorish, the group included James Arnold (first tenor), Connie Codarini (bass), and Frank Busseri (baritone). The Jordanaires later changed their name to the Four Dukes and they began performing to critical and public acclaim in the northeastern U.S. and Canada. An audition was soon arranged for the group at Le Ruban Bleu, a swanky New York City supper club, but the quartet members were made aware that there was already a group using the name Four Dukes working out of Detroit, so Julius Monk, impresario at the club, suggested they call themselves the Four Lads. Their engagement at Le Ruban Bleu lasted 30 weeks.
In 1951, they were signed by Mitch Miller to Columbia Records as background singers. Toorish was later commissioned to do the vocal and instrumental arranging on a Johnnie Ray single: "Cry" b/w "The Little White Cloud That Cried." Both sides proved to be huge hits and sales ultimately exceeded five million copies. The success brought Toorish and his Four Lads a recording contract with Columbia and the Lads began to lean away from spirituals and more toward pop.
In 1952, Columbia released their first hit, "The Mockingbird" (on their OKeh imprint). They received their first gold record in 1953 for "Istanbul," but the hits kept coming. In total, the Four Lads recorded 73 sides for Columbia, including "Rain, Rain, Rain," "Turn Back," "My Little Angel," "Skokian," "Moments to Remember" (which reached number two on the pop charts in 1955), "No, Not Much!" (written by the songwriting team of Bob Allen and Al Stillman, who wrote Johnny Mathis' big hit "Chances Are"), and "Standing on the Corner." Their sound was polished and crisp, with an overlay of vibrato on the long notes. Many of their heavily orchestrated songs were conducted by Frank DeVol or Ray Ellis.
The group also recorded several long-playing albums, including 1962's Dixieland Doin's, which was a Kapp recording released on the London label in stereo. Incidentally, their version of an old Negro spiritual, "Dem Bones," from this album was used during an episode of the British TV series The Prisoner. They made their American TV debut on The Ransom Sherman Show on NBC. Other TV appearances included The Pat Boone-Chevy Showroom on ABC and Perry Presents on NBC in 1959. The Four Lads were also one of the guest hosts of the summer music series Upbeat on CBS in 1955.
Their success story includes the sale of some 50 million singles and albums to date. During their heyday, the Lads' fan clubs reportedly had as many as 150,000 members (in Pittsburgh alone there were 20,000), but their popularity, which peaked in 1957, began to decline as the pendulum swung to folk music and rock & roll. After a number of changes in personnel, the original group finally broke up in 1977.
In 1978, Toorish gave up music and became an insurance underwriter. However, he didn't stay away from the stage mike for long. After the Four Lads' induction into the Canadian Juno Awards Hall of Fame in Toronto in 1984, enough interest was sparked in the group that Toorish (now shortened to "Torish") decided to end his long hiatus. He reactivated the quartet, though he remained the sole original from the '50s lineup. The Four Lads continued to perform at supper clubs, on cruises, and wherever oldies groups are booked, and even developed their own website, www.thefourlads.com. Copies of their first-release LPs are extremely rare, with a virgin copy of a '60s-era album selling for more than 200 dollars. ~ Bryan Thomas