Barbour, Ross's brother Don Barbour and their cousin, Bob Flanigan --
sang four-part harmony with a twist. They spread their four voices over a
range normally covered by a five-part group, thus giving them their
The Freshmen never did become sophomores; in the spring of 1948, the
young men left school to pursue a full-time music career.
In their first club date, on Sept. 20, 1948, the Freshmen appeared at
the 113 Club in Fort Wayne, Ind., said Ross Barbour, 72, who has penned
the group's biography, "Now You Know," which will be part of this month's
showcase at the Burbank Central Library, where Barbour will appear at 7
Their first gig at the 113 Club seemed almost too good to be true. It
"We lasted one week," Barbour said. "The boss called the booking agent
and said, 'Get these guys out. They're terrible."' The only reason they
managed to last the week was because the boss's daughter had a crush on
one of them, he said.
Their big break came when bandleader Stan Kenton heard them at the
Esquire Lounge in Dayton, Ohio.
"When Stan Kenton listens to you, it's like God is sitting in
listening," Barbour said.
Although they hadn't perfected their self-described "open harmony"
sound, Kenton heard what they could become, and the music legend told the
four young men, "You guys have got to succeed. You're part of my ego."
Kenton talked his record label, Capitol Records, into signing the
Freshmen. In 1954, they recorded their first album, "Voices in Modern,"
and over the next few years recorded 21 more original albums for Capitol
before moving on to other labels.
Although the Freshmen never racked up any gold or platinum records,
Barbour said many of their albums sold well. Their single, "Graduation
Day," which they recorded in 1956, became a big hit.
Kratzsch, who succumbed to cancer in 1970, was the first to leave the
quartet in 1953, replaced by Ken Errair.
In 1960, Bill Comstock replaced Don Barbour, who was killed 13 months
later in an automobile accident in October 1961.
Barbour stayed with the group until his retirement in 1977, but
Flanigan remained a Freshman for 44 years, then became the group's
manager. He now tours with the current Freshmen and owns the Four
Today's Four Freshmen are Greg Stegeman, who joined in 1989; Bob
Ferreira, who came on board in 1992; Brian Eichenberger, 1996; and newest member Vince Johnson, who joined in 1999.
Reflecting on his era, Barbour said, "We were serious about our music,
but we didn't take ourselves seriously."
The music world has, though. In September, the Freshmen will be
inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and Museum in Sharon, Pa.