Ross Barbour, the last surviving original member of the Four Freshmen, the influential close-harmony vocal quartet that came to fame in the 1950s with hits such as "Graduation Day," has died. He was 82.
Barbour, who had lung cancer, died Saturday at his home in Simi Valley, Calif., said Dina Roth, the current group's personal manager.
Barbour's death came three months after that of another founding member, his cousin Bob Flanigan, the original lead singer. The two other founding members were Barbour's brother Don and Hal Kratzsch.
The Barbour brothers and Kratzsch were students at Butler University's Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music in Indianapolis when they teamed with fellow student Marvin Pruitt to form a barbershop quartet called Hal's Harmonizers.
When Pruitt dropped out because of stage fright, he was replaced by Flanigan. By then, the quartet had taken on a more jazz-oriented flavor and a new name, the Toppers.
A self-contained vocal-instrumental group -- they all played instruments, with baritone Ross Barbour on drums -- they were renamed by an agent. As the Four Freshmen, they played their first date in a club in Fort Wayne, Ind., in September 1948.
The group's big break came after Stan Kenton heard them sing in the Esquire Lounge in Dayton, Ohio, in 1950 and arranged to have Capitol Records record them.
After two flop singles, the Four Freshmen scored a hit in 1952 with "It's a Blue World."
Other hits followed, including "Mood Indigo," "Day by Day," "It Happened Once Before" and "How Can I Tell Her?"
Their 1956 hit "Graduation Day" was later covered by the Beach Boys, whose Brian Wilson has referred to the Four Freshmen as his "harmonic education."
The Four Freshmen's innovative four-part harmonies influenced not only the Beach Boys but also the Lettermen, the Four Preps, the Manhattan Transfer and many other vocal groups.