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Published: Friday, 4/1/2005

Freshmen still young despite a 57-year run

The Four Freshman perform at Bowling Green State University at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
The Four Freshman perform at Bowling Green State University at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

As every student knows, freshmen are forever young. Now, however, the evidence is in and has been scientifically confirmed.

Here is the math. For 57 years the musical group the Four Freshmen has held a featured spot in the world of vocal jazz harmony. They have performed countless concerts and impacted generations of singers. The oldest member is only 34.

How do they do it? There is no Dorian Grey youth potion at work, just a healthy replacement system. The group has had 22 different personnel incarnations since it was founded in 1948.

The Four Freshman perform at Bowling Green State University at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

"It's long been a tradition for people to move in and out of the group. They have been replacing one after another since 1953," said baritone Vince Johnson, a member since 1999.

Not that there hasn't been continuity amidst all that change. Bob Flanagan, an original member who sang in the Freshmen from 1948 until 1990, still oversees the ensemble.

"Obviously, you couldn't replace members in certain groups, but it has always worked with us. That's because the sound is what makes the group, just like it's the sound that identifies the Count Basie Band. Always, our unique sound has been there, no matter what the personnel," Johnson said.

So is a sense of belonging.

"When you join The Freshmen, you feel like you are a part of something unique, something that everyone loves. Once a year we have a convention which all the former Four Freshmen can attend. It's very special and lots of fun," Johnson said.

But while the group strives to preserve its traditional sound, it also considers the present. The group arranges newer music, but in the sounds of earlier times.

"Our entertainment style is natural. It's always just us up there, no special effects. And it's always about the music first. We just play our instruments and sing," Johnson said.

Johnson noted that the Freshmen's core audience is generally 55 and older, but that recent success has opened doors to a broader audience. The ensemble was voted best vocal group of the year in 2000 and 2001 in Downbeat polls. JazzTimes named them the best vocal group of 2003. They perform up to 100 concerts annually.

The Four Freshmen perform at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the Lenhart Ballroom of Bowling Green State University's Bowen-Thompson Student Union. Tickets are $25. Information: 419-372-8171.

Contact Steven Cornelius at:scornelius@theblade.com

or 419-724-6152.

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