The Four Freshmen

For the Irish showband, see The Freshmen (band).
The Four Freshmen
Origin Indianapolis, Indiana, United States
Genres Jazz, classic pop, barbershop
Years active 1948–present
Labels Capitol, Liberty, Pausa Records, Coronet, Stylist, Creative World, Kahoots, Phonorama, Pickwick, Sunset, Crystal, Four Freshmen Society
Members Tommy Boynton
Stein Malvey
Curtis Calderon
Bob Ferreira
Past members 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

The Four Freshmen is an American male vocal band 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 (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 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 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",[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, and 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 also 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 Legacy

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-four distinct line-ups among twenty-five 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.<The Four Freshmen Society></Group through the years> The current Four Freshmen lineup, consisting of Tommy Boynton (1st part, bass), Stein Malvey (2nd part, guitar), Curtis Calderon (3rd part, trumpet), and Bob Ferreira (4th part, drums), was established in 2015.


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 29th International Four Freshmen Society Convention will be held at The Galt House Hotel, Louisville, Kentucky, August 24-27, 2016.


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 nominated for a Grammy in the Vocal Group Performance category in 1958 for The Four Freshmen in Person (Capitol), 1961 for Voices in Fun (Capitol), 1962 for The Swingers (Capitol), 1964 for More Four Freshmen and Five Trombones (Capitol), and in 1986 for Fresh! (Pausa).


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.'"[15] 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"[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!.



  • Voices in Modern, (1955) Capitol T-522 [19]
  • Four Freshmen and 5 Trombones, (1955) Capitol T-683
  • Freshmen Favorites, (1956) Capitol T-743
  • 4 Freshmen and 5 Trumpets, (1957) Capitol T-763
  • 4 Freshmen and 5 Saxes, (1957) Capitol T-844
  • Voices In Latin, (1958) Capitol T-922
  • In Person, (1958) Capitol ST-1008
  • Voices in Love, (1958) Capitol ST-1074
  • Freshmen Favorites Vol.2, (1959) Capitol T-1103
  • Love Lost, (1959) Capitol ST-1189
  • 4 Freshmen and 5 Guitars, (1959) Capitol ST-1255
  • Voices And Brass, (1960) Capitol ST-1295
  • Road Show, (1960) Capitol STBO-1327 (with Stan Kenton & June Christy)
  • First Affair, (1960) Capitol ST-1378
  • The Freshman Year, (1961) Capitol ST-1485
  • Voices in Fun, (1961) Capitol ST-1543 (with Billy May)
  • Best of The Four Freshmen, (1961) Capitol ST-1640 (compilation)
  • Stars in Our Eyes, (1962) Capitol ST-1682
  • The Swingers, (1962) Capitol ST-1753
  • In Person Vol.2, (1963) Capitol ST-1860
  • Got That Feelin', (1963) Capitol ST-1950
  • Funny How Time Slips Away, (1964) Capitol ST-2067
  • More 4 Freshmen and 5 Trombones, (1964) Capitol ST-2168
  • That's My Desire, (1967) Coronet CXS279 (with The University Four)
  • A Today Kind of Thing, (1968) Liberty LST-7542
  • Today is Tomorrow, (1968) Liberty LST-7563
  • In A Class By Themselves, (1968) Liberty LST-7590
  • Different Strokes, (1969) Liberty LST-7630
  • Four Freshmen in Tokyo '68, (1969) Liberty-Japan LP8540 (Import)
  • My Special Angel, (1970) Sunset SUS-5289 (compilation)
  • The Fabulous Four Freshmen, (1970) Pickwick SPC-3080 (compilation)
  • Return to Romance, (1971) Stylist SA-1900
  • Live At Butler U. with S. Kenton Orchestra, (1972) Creative World STD1059
  • Mount Freshmore, (1976) Kahoots MRS-8030
  • Alive & Well in Nashville, (1977) Phonorama PR-5563
  • A Taste of Honey, (1977) Pickwick SPC 3563 (compilation)
  • Fresh!, (1986) Pausa PR7193

CD albums

  • Live at Butler Univ., (1986) GNP/Crescendo 1059
  • Capitol Collectors Series, (1991) Capitol 93197 (compilation)
  • Road Show, (1991) Capitol 96328 (1959 Purdue Univ.)
  • Graduation Day, (1992) Laserlight 12-120 (aka: Alive & Well in Nashville)
  • Freshmas!, (1992) Ranwood RCD-8239
  • Fresh!, (1992) Ranwood RCD-8241
  • Greatest Hits, (1993) Curb D2-77612 (compilation)
  • Day by Day, (1994) Hindsight HCD-604 (1962 "Navy Swings")
  • Voices in Standard, (1994) Hindsight HCD-801 (the music of Sinatra)
  • Angel Eyes, (1995) Vipers Nest VN-159 (1958 concert)
  • It's A Blue World, (1995) Vipers Nest VN-170 (1958 concert)
  • Spotlight on The Four Freshmen, (1995) Capitol 31205 (compilation)
  • 5 Trombones / 5 Trumpets, (1996) 2 for CD: C.C. Music CCM017-2
  • Easy Street, (1997) Aerospace RACD-1023 (Ray Anthony TV Show)
  • Golden Anniversary Celebration, (1998) C.C. Music CCM069-2 (compilation)
  • The Four Freshmen In Concert, (1998) Hindsight HCD-613
  • 5 Saxes / 5 Guitars, (1998) 2 for CD: EMI-Capitol 495002-2 (UK issue)
  • Voices in Love / Love Lost, (1998) 2 for CD: C.C. Music CCM052-2
  • Voices in Latin / The Fresh-man Year, (1999) 2 for CD: C.C. Music CCM095-2
  • Still Fresh, (1999) Gold Label GLD 8005
  • WAZE Clearwater Jazz Concert, (1999) Hitchcock CD-0101
  • Stars in Our Eyes / The Swingers, (2000) 2 for CD: C.C. Music CCM143-2
  • The Complete Capitol 1950's Sessions, (2000) Mosaic 9-CD's Boxed Set with booklet
  • Golden Anniversary Celebrations, (2001) Collector's Choice Music
  • More 5 Trombones / In Person Vol.2, (2002) 2 for CD: C.C. Music CCM278-2
  • The Best of the Liberty Years, (2002) C.C. Music CCM227-2 (compilation)
  • First Affair / Voices in Fun, (2002) 2 for CD: EMI-Capitol 541667-2 (UK issue)
  • Live in the New Millennium, (2002) Gold Label GLD 8023
  • In Person / Voices and Brass, (2004) 2 for CD: C.C. Music CCM484-2
  • Live in Holland, (2004) Fresh Disc
  • Mount Freshmore, (2005) Kahoots
  • Voices in Modern / Funny How Time Slips Away, (2005) 2 for CD: C.C. Music CCM589-2
  • In Session, (2005) Fresh Disc
  • Star-Spangled Banner, (2005) Fresh Disc "single"
  • Today is Tomorrow, (2006) Toshiba-EMI TOCJ-66314 (Japan issue)
  • Snowfall, (2007) Fresh Disc
  • Live from Las Vegas' Suncoast Hotel, (2009) Fresh Disc
  • Four Freshmen and 'Live' Trombones, (2009) Fresh Disc
  • Graduation Day, (contains Voices in Modern/ 4 Freshmen and 5 Trumpets/ 4 Freshmen and 5 Trombones/ Freshmen Favorites) (2012) Jasmine 198 (UK issue)
  • Love Songs, (2012)
  • Live at the Franklin Theatre, (2013)
  • Four Freshmen and Friends. (2015)


  • Easy Street, (1991) Ray Anthony Enterprises Aero 1003
  • Live from Las Vegas' Suncoast Hotel, (2006) Big Picture
  • Live from Atlanta F.F. Society Convention, (members only) (2009)

Singles (A-side / B-side, release date, catalog number)

  • 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)

Note: The first fifteen singles ("Mr. B" through "Graduation Day") were also released as 78rpm Capitol discs, with the same stock numbers as above.

Promotional singles

  • "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" (dated 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, 3313 (small hole) promotional singles

  • "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 (set of 3)
  • "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. "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. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 "The Four Freshman - Inductees - The Vocal Group Hall of Fame Foundation". 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.
  5. 1 2 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". Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  9. "DownBeat Magazine". Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  10. "DownBeat Magazine". Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  11. "DownBeat Magazine". Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  12. "DownBeat Magazine". 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.
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