The Fairfield Four
Still Rockin’ My Soul
09 March 2015
09 March 2015
The Fairfield Four, the most distinguished proponents of traditional African American a cappella gospel singing working today, were organised in 1921 by Reverend J.R. Carrethers, assistant pastor of the Fairfield Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. The a cappella style of the Fairfield Four was drawn from the Birmingham, Alabama quartet tradition exemplified by recording groups such as the Bessemer Sunset Four, the Birmingham Jubilee Singers, and the Famous Blue Jay Singers with lead vocalist, Silas Steele.
The Fairfield Four were among pioneers of African American gospel groups that used radio to reach broader audiences. Radio led to making records and, beginning in 1946, the Fairfield Four released sides on the Bullet, Dot, Delta, and M-G-M labels, and later on Champion, Old Town, and Nashboro. Extending themselves through the far reach of media, the Fairfield Four would influence both sacred and secular vocalists across the land, among them blues singer B.B. King. “Before I left my hometown of Indianola, Mississippi,” says King, “the Fairfield Four used to come on the radio every morning real early before we went to work. I became a great fan and, in fact, (Sam) McCrary had a lot of influence on my singing over the years, and that’s the truth.”
Today, the Fairfield Four are best known from their appearance on the soundtrack and on screen in the Coen Brothers 2000 film, O Brother Where Art Thou. They are multiple Grammy winners with albums including Standing in the Safety Zone (1992) and I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray (1997) on Warner Brothers, Wreckin’ the House (1998) on Dead Reckoning, The Fairfield Four and Friends Live from Mountain Stage (2000) on Blue Plate, and by their bass singer Isaac Freeman with the Bluebloods, Beautiful Stars (2003) on Lost Highway.
Among their awards and honours, the National Endowment for the Arts, National Heritage Award, 1989; Tennessee Lifetime Achievement Award, 1994; Nashville Music Award Lifetime Achievement Award, 1995; James Cleveland Stellar Award, 1996; Grammy Award, Best Traditional Gospel Recording, for I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray, 1997; Gospel Music Hall of Fame, inducted, 1999.
The Fairfield Four, continuing to perform a cappella, have been singularly important in revitalising and preserving the oldest style of traditional African American spiritual and gospel singing. Amazingly, the current line-up still maintains its ties to the earliest configuration of the Fairfield Four. Robert Hamlett was a key figure in the Fairfield Four’s reemergence in the 1980s and now, as an emeritus member, has been intimately involved with keeping the group in the tradition. Joe Thompson, a relative of the Fairfield Four’s founding Carrethers brothers and its current bass singer, worked with Reverend Sam McCrary’s Fairfield Four throughout the 1950s. –Jerry Zolten
The current members of the Fairfield Four are Joe Thompson, Levert Allison, Larrice Byrd, Sr., and Bobbye Sherrell. Their soulful voices combine into a rich harmony that’s as soothing as a cool breeze on a hot summer day.
1. Rock My Soul
2. Come On In This House
3. Baptism of Jesus
4. Children Go Where I Send Thee
5. Jesus Gave Me Water
6. I Love The Lord, He Heard My Cry
7. My Rock
8. I’ve Got Jesus, That’s Enough
9. Don’t You Let Nobody Turn You Around
10. Highway to Heaven
11. I Love the Lord, He Heard My Cry (Reprise)
Producers: Larrice Byrd, Lee Olsen
‘ROCK MY SOUL’ PBS NATIONAL PLEDGE DRIVE SPECIAL
The release of the album will be accompanied by a US PBS TV special airing in the States in March, which celebrates the rich musical legacy of the black gospel quartet featuring The McCrary Sisters and The Fairfield Four in concert with special guests, plus contextual interviews with artists and historians.
Lee Ann Womack
Peter Guralnick – Author, Music Historian
Dom Flemons – Musician, Music Historian
Michael Gray – Museum Editor, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
John Rumble – Senior Historian, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Ann Powers – Journalist, Music Historian
Dr. Reavis L. Mitchell, Jr. – Professor of History and Dean of the School of Humanities, Fisk University
Dr. Paul T. Kwami – Musical Director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers
Joe Thompson, FF4
Robert Hamlett, FF4
Lee Olsen, Keith Case & Associates