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November 28, 2005

Fairfield Four's Wilson Waters Jr. dies.

Wilson "Lit" Waters Jr., an integral member of Grammy-winning gospel vocal group The Fairfield Four, died Thursday at his home in Nashville. He was 74 and had been diagnosed with cancer. Mr. Waters joined the Four in 1982, and his emotional second tenor vocals helped the group find mainstream recognition.

During Mr. Waters' tenure, The Fairfield Four won two Grammy awards, recorded four albums, made vocal contributions to critically hailed albums by Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, the Del McCoury Band, Kevin Welch, John Fogerty, Colin Linden and others, and were part of the movie and soundtrack O Brother, Where Art Thou?. In the movie Mr. Waters appears near the end of the film, digging a grave and singing the mournful Lonesome Valley.

"You hear Lit in that scene, and his vocal power is just striking," said Linden, a Nashville-based musician who recorded and toured with the Four. "The Fairfield Four brought a different sort of musicality, and Lit was right in the center. You always got a sense that he was one of the real anchors of the group. "He didn't step out that often as a lead voice, but once in a while he would take a verse or part of a verse and he would astound you with his power," Linden continued. "It was something that he kept in his back pocket."

Mr. Waters was not a part of the original Fairfield Four. Named for the church its members attended, Fairfield Baptist Church on Fain Street, the group was founded in the early 1920s, before Mr. Waters was born, but he joined former and future Fairfield Four members James Hill and Isaac Freeman in the gospel group The Skylarks, an act that released several extraordinary records on the Nashboro label. The Four reunited in 1980 after a long hiatus, and Mr. Waters joined the group in 1982.

In October of 1989, The Fairfield Four was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts, and in the 1990s the group extended its popularity beyond the traditional gospel field, drawing notice in pop, rock and country circles. Dressed in "Tennessee Tuxedos" black jackets, bow ties, white dress shirts and denim bib overalls the Four performed a cappella, allowing each member's voice to be heard to full effect. In February 1998, Mr. Waters collected his first Grammy, as the Four's I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray was named best traditional soul gospel album. A second Grammy followed in 2002, for contributions to the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Mr. Waters is survived by sons Ronnie, Johnnie, Tommy and Timothy Waters and by daughter Julie Helms.

Posted by acapnews at November 28, 2005 8:55 PM