The Four Freshmen

The Four Freshmen is an American male vocal quartet that blends open-harmonic jazz arrangements with the big band vocal group sounds of The Modernaires, The Pied Pipers, and The Mel-Tones, 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 Four Freshmen
OriginIndianapolis, Indiana, U.S.
GenresJazz, traditional pop, barbershop
Years active1948–present
LabelsCapitol, Liberty
MembersTommy Boynton
Ryan Howe[1]
Jake Baldwin
Bob Ferreira
Past membersRoss Barbour
Don Barbour
Hal Kratzsch
Bob Flanigan
Ken Errair
Bill Comstock
Ken Albers
Ray Brown
Autie Goodman
Dennis Grillo
Mike Beisner
Rod Henley
Dave Jennings
Newton Graber
Kirk Marcy
Gary Lee Rosenberg
Greg Stegeman
Kevin Stout
Alan MacIntosh
Vince Johnson
Brian Eichenberger
Curtis Calderon
Jon Gaines
Stein Malvey

The group was founded in 1948 in Indiana and reached its peak popularity in the mid-1950s. The last original member retired in 1993,[2] but the group continues to tour internationally. It has recorded jazz harmonies since its founding in the late 1940s in the halls of the Jordan School of Music at Butler University in Indianapolis.[3]


In early 1948, brothers Ross and Don Barbour formed a barbershop quartet called Hal's Harmonizers at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Harmonizers also included Marvin Pruitt, soon replaced by Ross and Don's cousin Bob Flanigan, and Hal Kratzsch (1925–70), who was replaced in 1953 by Ken Errair. The quartet adopted a more jazz-oriented repertoire and renamed itself the Toppers. At first, the group was influenced by Glenn Miller's quartet, The Modernaires, and Mel Tormé's Mel-Tones, but soon developed its 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, Stan Kenton heard the quartet at the Esquire Lounge in Dayton, Ohio. He "had been told at his own show earlier that night about a quartet in town that sounded like his 43-piece ensemble",[4] 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.[4] In 1950, they released a single, "Mr. B's Blues", and appeared in their first and only film, Rich, Young and Pretty.[4] 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.[4] They managed to get the song onto the radio, and in 1952, "It's a Blue World" became their first charted single. Capitol re-signed the group in July of the same year.[4]

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 magazine poll as Best Jazz Vocal Group of 1953.[4]

In 1954, the Freshmen recorded their first album, Voices in Modern. "Mood Indigo", a single from this album, charted.[4] The following year, they released "How Can I Tell Her" and "Charmaine", followed by "Graduation Day" in 1956.[4] The group's album Four Freshmen and 5 Trombones "set the standard for modern jazz vocal groups" and reached number 6.[4]

After only a short time with the group, Ken Errair left to get married, and was replaced by Ken Albers.[4] Around this time, the group began to perform at college auditoriums and to pursue a younger audience.[4]

In 1960, the Freshmen recorded "Their Hearts Were Full of Spring", a song which, with different lyrics, became The Beach Boys' "A Young Man Is Gone" in 1963.[4] The group eventually lost its 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 its main influences.[5] The next of the Freshmen to depart was Don Barbour, who left in 1960. He was replaced by Bill Comstock.[4]

The group did not disband after the last original member, Bob Flanigan, retired in 1993. After his retirement, Flanigan managed the group. He died on May 15, 2011, at the age of 84 from congestive heart failure. Ross Barbour died on August 20, 2011, at the age of 82 from cancer.[6]

The Four Freshmen have had many different members. Bob Ferreira joined the legacy of the Four Freshmen in 1993; Curtis Calderon joined in 2001. Stein Malvey's contributions began in 2013. Tommy Boynton took over the lead voice in 2015 and the band welcomed Jon Gaines in 2016.

The lineup as of December 2021, consisted of Bob Ferreira (bass vocals and percussion); Tommy Boynton (guitar and second part vocals); Jake Baldwin (joined 2020; trumpet, flugelhorn, and third part vocals); and Ryan Howe (joined 2020; bass guitar and lead vocals).


According to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians:

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.[7]

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.[8]


The Four Freshmen were an important influence on Brian Wilson, beginning in the mid-50s. He listened to one of their albums, Four Freshmen and 5 Trombones, and it "mesmerized" him. He spoke very highly of it: "'It brings a feeling of love inside me.... That feeling of harmony.'"[9] Aside from listening to their music, the teenage 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."[10]

The Four Freshmen are also credited with influencing The Lettermen, The Four Preps and The Manhattan Transfer, among other vocal groups.[6]

The Donald Fagen song "Maxine", from his 1982 50s-themed album The Nightfly, in which Fagen accompanies himself on four-part harmonies, has been described as inspired by the Four Freshmen.[11][12] The Four Freshmen covered the song on their 1986 album Fresh!

Awards and honorsEdit

The Four Freshmen have won JazzTimes magazine's Readers Poll for Best Vocal Group multiple years.

The group won Down Beat magazine's Readers Poll for Best Vocal Group in 1953,[13] 1954,[14] 1955,[15] 1956,[16] 1958,[17] 2000,[18] and 2001.[19]

The Freshmen have been nominated for a Grammy Award six times.[20]



  • Voices in Modern (Capitol, 1952)
  • Four Freshmen and 5 Trombones (Capitol, 1955)
  • Freshmen Favorites (Capitol, 1956)
  • 4 Freshmen and 5 Trumpets (Capitol, 1957)
  • 4 Freshmen and 5 Saxes (Capitol, 1957)
  • The Four Freshmen at Penn State (1957)
  • Voices in Latin (Capitol, 1958)
  • Voices in Love (Capitol, 1958)
  • The Four Freshmen in Person (Capitol, 1958)
  • Road Show with Stan Kenton, June Christy (Capitol, 1959)
  • The Four Freshmen and Five Guitars (Capitol, 1959)
  • 4 Freshmen and 5 Guitars (Capitol, 1959)
  • Love Lost (Capitol, 1959)
  • Freshmen Favorites Vol. 2 (Capitol, 1959)
  • First Affair (Capitol, 1960)
  • Voices and Brass (Capitol, 1960)
  • Voices in Fun (Capitol, 1961)
  • The Freshman Year (Capitol, 1961)
  • Stars in Our Eyes (Capitol, 1962)
  • The Swingers (Capitol, 1962)
  • In Person Volume 2 (Capitol, 1963)
  • The Four Freshmen Got That Feelin' (Capitol, 1963)
  • Guest Star with the Clark Sisters (U.S. Department of The Treasury, 1963)
  • Funny How Time Slips Away (Capitol, 1964)
  • More 4 Freshmen and 5 Trombones (Capitol, 1964)
  • The Four Freshmen Sing (Coronet, 1967)
  • A Today Kind of Thing (Liberty, 1968)
  • Today Is Tomorrow! (Liberty, 1968)
  • In a Class by Themselves (Liberty, 1969)
  • Different Strokes (Liberty, 1969)
  • The Four Freshmen in Tokyo '68 (Liberty, 1969)
  • The Fabulous Four Freshman (Pickwick/33, 1970)
  • Return to Romance: The Greatest Hits of The Four Freshmen, Sung for the 70's (Stylist, 1970)
  • Live at Butler University with Stan Kenton (Creative World, 1972)
  • Skitch & Company (Army Reserve 1974)
  • A Taste of Honey (Pickwick 1976)
  • Mount Freshmore (Kahoots, 1977)
  • Alive and Well in Nashville (Phonorama, 1982)
  • Fresh! (Pausa, 1986)
  • Freshmas! (Ranwood, 1992)
  • Graduation Day (Laserlight, 1992)
  • Voices in Standards (Hindsight, 1994)
  • Day by Day (Hindsight, 1994)
  • It's a Blue World (Viper's Nest, 1995)
  • Angel Eyes (Viper's Nest, 1995)
  • Through the Years (Four Freshmen Society, 1997)
  • Live at Penn State (Four Freshmen Society, 1997)
  • Golden Anniversary Celebration (EMI-Capitol, 1998)
  • Still Fresh (Pat Boone's Gold Label 1999)
  • In Session (Self Released 2005)
  • Snowfall (Self-released, 2007)
  • Live from Las Vegas (Four Freshmen Society, 2009)
  • The Four Freshmen & LIVE Trombones (Four Freshmen Society, 2009)
  • Love Songs (Four Freshmen Society, 2012)
  • Four Freshmen And Friends (Four Freshmen Society, 2015)


  • Stan Kenton's Orchestra September Song (1951), Capitol 382
  • "Mr. B's Blues"/"Then I'll Be Happy" (11/50), Capitol 1293
  • "Now You Know"/"Pick Up Your Tears and Go Home" (4/51), Capitol 1377
  • "It's a Blue World"/"Tuxedo Junction" (7/52), Capitol 2152
  • "The Day Isn't Long Enough"/"Stormy Weather" (11/52), Capitol 2286
  • "Poinciana"/"Baltimore Oriole" (4/53), Capitol 2398
  • "Holiday"/"It Happened Once Before" (8/53), Capitol 2564
  • "Seems Like Old Times"/"Crazy Bones" (2/54), Capitol 2745
  • "I'll Be Seeing You"/"Please Remember" (6/54), Capitol 2832
  • "We'll Be Together Again"/"My Heart Stood Still" (8/54), Capitol 2898
  • "Mood Indigo"/"Love Turns Winter to Spring" (10/54), Capitol 2961
  • "It Never Occurred to Me"/"Malaya" (3/55), Capitol 3070
  • "Day By Day"/"How Can I Tell Her" (6/55), Capitol 3154
  • "Charmaine"/"In This Whole Wide World" (11/55), Capitol 3292
  • "Angel Eyes"/"Love Is Just Around the Corner" (2/56), Capitol 3359
  • "Graduation Day"/"Lonely Night in Paris" (4/56), Capitol 3410
  • "He Who Loves and Runs Away"/"You're So Far Above Me" (9/56), Capitol 3532
  • "That's the Way I Feel"/"What's It Gonna Be" (2/57), Capitol 3652
  • "Julie Is Her Name"/"Sometimes I'm Happy" (8/57), Capitol 3779
  • "How Can I Begin to Tell"/"Granada" (11/57), Capitol 3832
  • "Whistle Me Some Blues"/"Nights Are Longer" (3/58), Capitol 3930
  • "Don't Worry Bout Me"/"I Never Knew" (??), Capitol
  • "Candy"/"Route 66" (2/60), Capitol 4341
  • "Teach Me Tonight"/"Shangri-La" (6/62), Capitol 4749
  • "I'm Gonna Go Fishin'"/"Taps Miller" (9/62), Capitol 4824
  • "Summertime"/"Baby Won't You Please Come Home" (6/63), Capitol 5007
  • "Funny How Time Slips Away"/"Charade" (11/63), Capitol 5083
  • "My Baby's Gone"/"Don't Make Me Sorry" (3/64), Capitol 5151
  • "When I Stop Lovin' You"/"Nights Are Long" (4/65), Capitol 5401
  • "Old Cape Cod"/"Men in Their Flying Machines" (8/65), Capitol 5471
  • "Cry"/"Nowhere to Go" (12/66), Decca 32070
  • "Cherish"/"Come Fly with Me" (6/68), Liberty 56047
  • "Windy"/"Up, Up and Away"
  • "Blue World"/"Phoenix" (4/69), Liberty 56099
  • "My Special Angel"
  • "I Want to Love"/"While I'm Young", Capitol F 3539 (Ken Errair solo)
  • "Ain't Goin' Nowhere"
  • "How About Me", Capitol F 3890 (Ken Errair Quartet)
  • "How's About Tomorrow Night"
  • "The Creep"/"Tenderly" (2/54), Capitol 2685 (Four Freshmen sing on Tenderly)

Promotional singlesEdit

  • "It's a Blue World"/"Poinciana", Capitol PRO 862
  • "You're So Far Above Me"/"Brazil", Capitol PRO 863
  • "Every Time We Say Goodbye"/"Circus", Capitol PRO 864
  • "Whistle Me Some Blues"/"It Never Occurred to Me", Capitol PRO 865
  • "You Stepped Out of a Dream"/"I May Be Wrong", Capitol PRO 866
  • "Baltimore Oriole"/"It Could Happen to You", Capitol Pro 867
  • "Accentuate the Positive"/"I Want to Be Happy", Capitol PRO 1822
  • "We've Got a World That Swings"/"When My Sugar Walks Down the Street", Capitol PRO 2392 (red vinyl)
  • "It Never Occurred to Me"/"Malaya", Capitol PRO 2969
  • "How Can I Tell Her"/"Day by Day", Capitol PRO 3070
  • "Angel Eyes"/"Love Is Just Around the Corner", Capitol PRO 3154
  • "I Want to Love While I'm Still Young"/"Ain't Goin' Nowhere" (Ken Errair), Capitol PRO 3359
  • "Give Me the Simple Life" (1/12/62)/"Say it Isn't So" (not a Four Freshman cut), USAF presents Music in the Air
  • "Nowhere to Go"/"Cry", Decca 32070

7 inch, 3313promotional singlesEdit

  • "Here's Hollywood"/"And So It's Over", Capitol PRO 2402
  • "Moon River"/"Dynaflow", Capitol PRO 2449
  • "Blue World"/"Poinciana", Capitol PRO 2510
  • "Li'l Darlin'"/"Lulu's Back in Town", Capitol XE 1753
  • "Candy"/"It Could Happen to You", Capitol XE 1640
  • "Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe"/"While You Are Gone"
  • "Day By Day"/"Little Girl Blue"
  • "Moonlight Rain"
  • "I'm Beginning to See the Light"/"It's a Blue World"


  1. ^ "Band". The Four Freshmen. Retrieved November 29, 2020.
  2. ^ "A Visit with Bob Flanigan of The Four Freshmen" with Sun City Anthem's Channel 99's music editor, Yvonne Cloutier
  3. ^ Smith, William H. (2008-08-20). "A Vocal Group at the Top of Its Class". The Wall Street Journal. p. D9.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "The Four Freshman - Inductees - The Vocal Group Hall of Fame Foundation". Archived from the original on 17 January 2016. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  5. ^ 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. University of North Texas Libraries.
  6. ^ a b McLellan, Dennis (August 3, 2011). "Ross Barbour dies at 82; original member of the Four Freshmen". Los Angeles Times.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ The Oxford Companion to Popular Music (1991), Peter Gammond, Oxford University Press: Oxford, New York.
  9. ^ Carlin, Peter Ames (2006), "Catch A Wave: The Rise, Fall & Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson": Rodale. p. 39
  10. ^ Carlin, Peter Ames (2006), "Catch A Wave: The Rise, Fall & Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson": Rodale. p.43
  11. ^ Palmer, Robert (October 20, 1982). "POP LIFE; Donald Fagen Returns to 50's Roots". The New York Times.
  12. ^ Toth, Robert J. (January 9, 2008). "'The Nightfly' Still Lives at 25". The Wall Street Journal.
  13. ^ "DownBeat Magazine". Archived from the original on 5 December 2014. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  14. ^ "DownBeat Magazine". Archived from the original on 5 December 2014. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  15. ^ "DownBeat Magazine". Archived from the original on 6 March 2012. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  16. ^ "DownBeat Magazine". Archived from the original on 6 March 2012. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  17. ^ "DownBeat Magazine". Archived from the original on 5 December 2014. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  18. ^ "DownBeat Magazine". Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  19. ^ "DownBeat Magazine". Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  20. ^ "Grammy Award Results for Four Freshmen". Retrieved May 2, 2020.

External linksEdit