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Ross Barbour, Last of the Original Four Freshmen, Dies at 82

Harmony group recorded more than 50 albums

Ross Barbour
The Four Freshmen

Ross Barbour, the last of the original Four Freshmen, died at age 82 on August 21 in Simi Valley, Calif. The cause was lung cancer.

The vocal group formed as Hal’s Harmonizers, a barbershop quartet, in 1948 at Butler University in Indianapolis. Ind. They then changed their name to the Toppers and began leaning in a more jazz-oriented direction. They became the Four Freshmen upon deciding to turn professional. In addition to Ross Barbour, who sang baritone for the group, the other founding members were his brother Don Barbour, Hal Kratzsch and Marvin Pruitt. Bob Flanigan (who died three months ago), the Barbours’ cousin, soon replaced Pruitt. Kratsch was replaced in 1953 by Ken Errair.

Signed to Capitol Records at the recommendation of bandleader Stan Kenton, the Four Freshmen were inspired by jazz harmonies and often worked with big bands. They considered Glenn Miller’s Modernaires and Mel Tormé’s Mel-Tones models but their style, which incorporated improvisation, evolved as jazz and pop styles changed. Their biggest hit single, “Graduation Day,” came in 1956 and was later covered by the Beach Boys, whose leader Brian Wilson considered the Four Freshmen a major influence.

Ross Edwin Barbour was born on Dec. 31, 1928, in Columbus, Ind. He retired from the Four Freshmen in 1977, after 29 years with the Four Freshmen.

The group recorded over 50 albums, two of which, 1956’s Four Freshmen and 5 Trombones and the next year’s followup Four Freshmen and 5 Trumpets, reached the Billboard Top 10.

Each member of the original Four Freshmen played an instrument in addition to singing; Ross Barbour was the group’s drummer at the start.

The Four Freshmen were nominated for Grammys on six occasions and were selected best vocal group by Down Beat magazine’s readers seven times. A Four Freshmen group continues to perform today, albeit with members who were not yet born when the group was formed.

Originally Published