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Friday, May 6, 2016

Greencastle native in Four Freshmen

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ross Barbour and Bob Flanigan received their honorary doctorate degrees May 10 from Butler University. Pictured are Ross Barbour, Butler President Bobby Fong and Bob Flanigan.
The sound that inspired the Beach Boys has roots in Greencastle.

Bob Flanigan was born on Sunset Drive in Greencastle. In 1948, an event occurred that changed his life forever.

While attending Butler University, Flanigan was asked by his two cousins, Ross and Don Barbour, to join their musical group, which also included Hal Kratzch.

"They left Butler their freshman year to go on the road," said Maxine Thomas, Flanigan's sister. "That's why they're called The Four Freshmen."

Thomas explained how their mother -- a Quaker - was supportive of Flanigan's musical career, but how her aunt repeatedly told the Barbours not to leave school.

Two years after forming, the group impressed Stan Kenton, who introduced them to Capitol Records where they were signed.

In 1952 their first big hit, "It's A Blue World Without You," was released.

The Four Freshmen are still touring today -- with four new members. The band has gone through dozens of incarnations.

Thomas has vivid memories of her brother when he was younger.

"Really the first memory I had of him as a child was him sitting on the curb playing his guitar with one of those holders for a harmonica around his neck," she said.

Even though their mother was very supportive of Flanigan playing jazz, Thomas said how she could only play the classics like Brahms and Mozart on piano.

"Whenever they got big, the only thing that changed for me was that I had more people at school coming up and asking where my brother was. They were all interested in where the band was at," Thomas said.

Recently, the group celebrated their 60th anniversary in Indianapolis with all 23 lineups. According to William Smith's article in the Wall Street Journal, "they were not the first successful vocal group, but were, without question, the most innovative."

Their innovation came from being a vocal quartet with a quintet sound. They also played a variety of instruments, switching sometimes in the middle of songs.

Showing a picture of her brother, Thomas explained how he was in the Army. He played trombone in the 29th Infantry Swing Band. The picture was taken in Brenem, Germany in 1946 -- two years before he became a member of the Four Freshmen -- just following World War II.

The Four Freshmen left their mark on vocal groups that followed.

Brian Wilson, the founder of The Beach Boys, was enamored with the group as a teenager and used their vocal stylings and melodies as a basis for his band. The Four Freshmen also heavily influenced the Lettermen.

Today, only two of the original four members still survive. Flanigan, soon to be 82, lives in Las Vegas with his second wife. He was the last original member of the band, retiring in 1992. He has six children.

Ross Barbour, the other surviving original member, lives in California.

On May 10, both Flanigan and Ross Barbour were given honorary doctorate degrees from Butler University.

Ross Barbour penned a book about the struggles in the early years of the group called "Now You Know: The Story of The Four Freshman." The book can be ordered through the fan club and on Amazon.com. The fan club's Web site is www.fourfreshmen.com and includes tour dates for the current lineup.

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The Four Freshmen are without question the greatest jazz/pop vocal group of all time!!!!

Ciao! Paul

-- Posted by urbisoler on Sat, Sep 6, 2008, at 6:05 PM

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