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May 17, 2011

Bob Flanigan dies at 84; founding member of the Four Freshmen

Los Angeles Times:

Bob Flanigan, a founding member and original lead singer of the innovative vocal group the Four Freshmen, whose elegantly intricate jazz-rooted singing was a profound influence on Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson as well as the Lettermen, the Manhattan Transfer and numerous other vocal acts, died Sunday at his home in Las Vegas of congestive heart failure. He was 84.

Flanigan, who retired from performing with the group in 1992 but continued as its manager until his death, was surrounded by friends and family and had been serenaded by an ad hoc group of eight trombone players a few hours before he died, a spokeswoman for the current edition of the Grammy-winning group said Monday. The original lineup charted a handful of hits in the '50s, including "Graduation Day," '"It's a Blue World" and their arrangement of Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo."

"Bob Flanigan and the Four Freshmen were my harmonic education," Wilson said Monday. "I saw them at the Cocoanut Grove in Hollywood in 1958. My dad and I went backstage and met the Freshmen. I was nervous because they were my idols. They were so nice to me. I was just 15 years old. I'll forever miss his friendship."

Wilson has long cited the Freshmen as one of the two most important influences on the Beach Boys' sound, the other being the exuberant guitar-driven rock of Chuck Berry.

Ross Barbour, 82 and now the group's last surviving original member, said in a statement: "Flanigan's voice was indestructible. He could drive all day and all night without stopping between gigs, and when our voices were on the edge, Bob was still in full form."

Flanigan, who also was a trombonist, often credited big band leader Stan Kenton as being the key influence on what the Freshmen wanted to achieve, a sound built on more sophisticated harmonies than typical of the male vocal quartets that preceded them.

"I always thought of singing as if I were playing trombone with Stan," Flanigan told The Times in 1991. "We think like horn players. The way we blend is due to our approach as instrumentalists. Also, we use no vibrato, because Kenton's trombones didn't."

All members of the Four Freshmen also played instruments, which made them unique among close-harmony vocal groups of the era. In addition, Flanigan's exceptional vocal range allowed him to take the melody above the other three voices, which also opened new vistas in male quartet singing. Read more.

Posted by acapnews at May 17, 2011 8:49 PM


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