Get Four Freshmen essential facts below. View Videos or join the Four Freshmen discussion. Add Four Freshmen to your PopFlock.com topic list for future reference or share this resource on social media.
Tommy Boynton Stein Malvey Jon Gaines Bob Ferreira
Ross 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, 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).
Beginnings and early success
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", 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.
Later in 1950, they released a single, "Mr. B's Blues", and appeared in their first and only film, Rich, Young and Pretty.
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. They managed to get the song onto the radio, and in 1952, "It's a Blue World" became their first charted single, and Capitol re-signed the group in July of the same year.
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.
In 1954, the Freshmen recorded their first album, Voices in Modern; "Mood Indigo", a single from this album, charted. The following year, they released "How Can I Tell Her" and "Charmaine", followed by "Graduation Day" in 1956.
After only a short time with the group, Ken Errair left the band to get married, and was replaced by Ken Albers. Around this time, the group also started playing at college auditoriums and pursuing a younger audience.
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.
The next Freshmen to leave was Don Barbour, who left in 1960 and was replaced by Bill Comstock.
In 1965 the group left Capitol, and began a number of brief stints at other labels. 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.
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 Society
The 21st International Four Freshmen Society Convention, "Back Home in Indiana", was held in Indianapolis, the home of Butler University, 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 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 August 19-21, 2010.
The 24th International Four Freshmen Society Convention was held at The Park Inn Hotel in Toledo, Ohio September 8-10, 2011.
The 25th International Four Freshmen Society Convention was held at Harrah's Reno Hotel and Casino in Reno, Nevada, October 4-6, 2012.
The 26th International Four Freshmen Society Convention was held at the Grand Wayne Convention Center, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 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, October 2-4, 2014.
The 28th International Four Freshmen Society Convention was held at the Wyndham San Antonio Riverwalk Hotel, San Antonio, Texas, September 17-19, 2015.
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." 
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."
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, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1958, 2000, and 2001. 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, and he spoke very highly of it; "'It brings a feeling of love inside me.... That feeling of harmony.'" Aside from listening to their music, the teenage Brian 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"
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. The Four Freshmen covered the song on their 1986 album Fresh!.