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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 (Glenn Miller), The Pied Pipers (Tommy Dorsey), and The Mel-Tones (Mel Tormé, Artie Shaw), 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, United States
GenresJazz, classic pop, barbershop
Years active1948–present
LabelsCapitol, Liberty, Pausa Records, Coronet, Stylist, Creative World, Kahoots, Phonorama, Pickwick, Sunset, Crystal, Four Freshmen Society
MembersTommy Boynton
Stein Malvey
Jon Gaines
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

The group was founded in 1948, and reached its peak popularity in the mid-1950s. The last original member retired in 1993,[1] but the group still tours internationally and has recorded jazz harmonies since its late 1940s founding in the halls of the Jordan School of Music at Butler University (Indianapolis).[2]


Beginnings and early successEdit

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.

On March 21, 1950, the Four Freshmen got a break when band leader Stan Kenton heard the quartet in Dayton, Ohio's, Esquire Lounge. He "had been told at his own show earlier that night about a quartet in town that sounded like his 43-piece ensemble",[3] 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.[3]

Later in 1950, they released a single, "Mr. B's Blues", and appeared in their first and only film, Rich, Young and Pretty.[3]

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.[3] 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.[3]

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 poll as Best Jazz Vocal Group of 1953.[3]

In 1954, the Freshmen recorded their first album, Voices in Modern; "Mood Indigo", a single from this album, charted.[3] The following year, they released "How Can I Tell Her" and "Charmaine", followed by "Graduation Day" in 1956.[3]

Their album Four Freshmen and 5 Trombones "set the standard for modern jazz vocal groups" and reached number 6.[3]

After only a short time with the group, Ken Errair left the band to get married, and was replaced by Ken Albers.[3] Around this time, the group started playing at college auditoriums and pursuing a younger audience.[3]

In 1960, the Freshmen recorded "Their Hearts Were Full of Spring", a song which, with different lyrics, later became The Beach Boys' "A Young Man Is Gone"[3] in 1963.

Continued legacyEdit

As with many of the bands of the big band era the group eventually lost their 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 their main influences.[4]

The next Freshmen to leave was Don Barbour, who left in 1960 and was replaced by Bill Comstock.[3] In 1965 the group left Capitol, and began a number of brief stints at other labels.[3] Over the course of the 70s and 80s, the group continued to evolve with changing members.

The group did not disband even after the last original member, Bob Flanigan, retired in 1993. After his retirement, Flanigan managed the group remaining actively involved behind the scenes to continue to drive the vocal harmonies. 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.[5]

With its long history, the vocal harmony legacy continues. The Four Freshmen continue with twenty-five distinct line-ups among twenty-six different members. Bob Ferreira joined the legacy of the Four Freshmen in 1993 with Curtis Calderon becoming part 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 current Four Freshmen lineup, consisting of Tommy Boynton (1st part, bass), Stein Malvey (2nd part, guitar), Jon Gaines (3rd part, trumpet), and Bob Ferreira (4th part, drums), played its first engagement on January 19, 2017.



Four Freshmen SocietyEdit

The 21st International Four Freshmen Society Convention, "Back Home in Indiana", was held in Indianapolis, the home of Butler University, on 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 on 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 on August 19–21, 2010.

The 24th International Four Freshmen Society Convention was held at the Park Inn Hotel in Toledo, Ohio on September 8–10, 2011.

The 25th International Four Freshmen Society Convention was held at Harrah's Reno Hotel and Casino in Reno, Nevada, on October 4–6, 2012.

The 26th International Four Freshmen Society Convention was held at the Grand Wayne Convention Center, Fort Wayne, Indiana, on 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 was held at the Doubletree Tampa Westshore Hotel, Tampa, Florida, on October 2–4, 2014.

The 28th International Four Freshmen Society Convention was held at the Wyndham San Antonio Riverwalk Hotel, San Antonio, Texas, on September 17–19, 2015.

The 29th International Four Freshmen Society Convention was held at the Galt House Hotel, Louisville, Kentucky, on August 24–27, 2016.

The 30th International Four Freshmen Society Convention was held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Dayton, Ohio, on August 17–19, 2017.

The 31st International Four Freshmen Society Convention was held at the Doubletree Hotel, South Bend, Indiana, on October 18–20, 2018.


The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians says that "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." [6]

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."[7]


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

They have also won Down Beat magazine's Readers Poll for Best Vocal Group in 1953,[8] 1954,[9] 1955,[10] 1956,[11] 1958,[12] 2000,[13] and 2001.[14] They have also entered the magazine's Readers Poll Hall of Fame finals multiple times.


The Four Freshmen were an important influence on Brian Wilson, beginning in the mid-50s. He listened to one of their albums, The Four Freshmen and the Five Trombones, and it "mesmerized" him. He spoke very highly of it: "'It brings a feeling of love inside me.... That feeling of harmony.'"[15] 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."[16]

The Four Freshmen are also credited with influencing The Lettermen, The Four Preps and The Manhattan Transfer, among other vocal groups.[5]

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.[17][18] The Four Freshmen covered the song on their 1986 album Fresh!



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

External linksEdit