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Members include James Arnold (group member, 1950-84), first tenor; Aaron Bruce (group member, 1974-), second tenor; Frank Busseri, bass, baritone; Connie Codarini (group member, 1950-62), bass; Don Farrar (group member, 1984-), second tenor, lead tenor; Alan Sokolof (group member, 1979-), lead tenor, baritone; Bernie Toorish (group member, 1950-74), second tenor. Addresses: Record company--Collectables, P.O. Box 77, Narberth, PA 19072-0077.
Smooth and unpretentious, the Four Lads were major hitmakers during the years before rock 'n' roll became a dominant force. One of the era's many groups with "Four" in their name--including the Four Aces, the Four Coins, the Four Fellows, the Four Freshman--the Toronto natives were among Columbia Records' most valuable assets during the 1950s. Whether recording their own string of 28 chart records or singing behind such legendary figures as Johnnie Ray or Frankie Laine, the Four Lads executed their harmonies with a unique mix of youthful zeal, professional polish, and spirituality.
Bass (later baritone) singer Frank Busseri explained the group's vocal approach in an interview with Contemporary Musicians: "When we did our stuff, we tried to do it as one voice. In other words, we tried to feel the lyric like one person, not like it's four people, so that everybody would be in the same ballpark. We didn't make the harmonies too sophisticated, because there again it would cloud the melody and the lyric, and basically we kept it simple so people could understand it."
Jimmy Arnold, Busseri, Connie Codarini, and Bernie Toorish developed their smooth yet masculine blend at the St. Michael's Cathedral Choir School, where they received training in harmony and music theory. As the Four Dukes, they sang at various Toronto hotels when they weren't studying.
Busseri told Contemporary Musicians about the group's influences and how they got their big break. "We actually patterned ourselves after the Golden Gate Quartet--they were one of the popular spiritual groups of the day. That was our beginning, doing that kind of music--also the pop music of the day. Around 1948, '49, the Golden Gate Quartet came to Canada and we got to meet them and sing for them and they were quite impressed with our music. When they went back to New York, they told their manager about us and he asked us to do a demonstration record, which we did, and sent it to him. The next thing we knew he asked us if we wanted to come to New York and give it a shot."
Still in their teens, the quartet landed a try-out gig at a posh New York nightclub, Le Ruban Bleu. Noting that another group employed the Four Dukes moniker, club owner Julius Monk suggested that the new Canadian group become the Four Lads. Their youthful sparkle caused an instant sensation, and the Lads were held over for 30 consecutive weeks.
Backed the Cry Guy
While the Four Lads were at Le Ruban Bleu, Columbia Records' powerful producer and A&R (Artists and Repertoire) man Mitch Miller scouted them. Initially, the label honcho felt the boys weren't ready to record, but he changed his mind in 1951 and hired them as both session singers and a solo act.
The Four Lads were so well regarded by Columbia Records that they were actually given their choice of acts with whom they wanted to record. The first artist they chose was Johnnie Ray. Nicknamed "The Nabob of Sob," "The Prince of Wails," "Mr. Emotion," and "The Cry Guy," Ray caused a public sensation with his emotive style. Recording for Columbia's R&B subsidiary label Okeh, the quartet's tender background crooning--arranged by the Lads' own Bernie Toorish--made Ray's passionate, bluesy chanting palatable to pop audiences. As a result, "Cry" and "The Little White Cloud That Cried" became a two-sided smash in 1951.
Columbia quickly switched both Ray and the Lads to their main label, where the group backed the new pop sensation on such 1952 hits as "Please, Mr. Sun," "Here I Am Brokenhearted," and "What's the Use?" Ray's recordings helped open the doors for the white R&B/rock 'n' roll movement later in the decade, but according to Busseri, the Oregon-born wailer was oblivious to the cultural barricades he was smashing. "I think he was just involved in his style," Busseri recalled in the interview with Contemporary Musicians. "You know, they called him 'Mr. Emotion' and that's what he did, he emoted. He just did his thing and sang his songs the way he felt them. I don't think he categorized himself as a rhythm and blues singer or as [a] pop singer." Appreciative of the late singer's significance to their own careers, the Four Lads include a Johnnie Ray tribute in all their live performances today.
Mitch Miller Created Hit Formula
The Four Lads scored two minor hit records, "The Mocking Bird" in 1952 and "Somebody Loves Me" in 1953, before finding their signature sound. "Eventually, we did a song called 'Istanbul,'" Busseri explained to Contemporary Musicians. "Jimmy, who was the high tenor, he did sort of an obligatto and right away Mitch noticed that was a good sound for us. So, what we did was take the lead voice and put it on the top."
"Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" in 1953 and the bouncy South African rhythms of "Skokiaan" in 1954 established the fun-loving, rhythmic side of the group's musical personality and made them stars in their own right. Decades later, in 1990, eclectic rockers They Might Be Giants recorded a surprisingly faithful version of "Istanbul," which became a popular segment on the animated Tiny Toons Adventures.
Recording live in three-hour sessions, in a room with up to 50 musicians, the Four Lads all sang into one microphone. The expense of such a setup was enormous, so both Miller and the Four Lads were keen on preparation. Miller, best known today as the pointy-bearded host of television's Sing Along with Mitch, often used humor to accentuate his direction and relieve the pressure.
"Well, he was in the booth of course, and we would run the things down a few times and he would listen and then he might say, 'put a little bit more smile in your voice' or whatever," Busseri explained to Contemporary Musicians. "Diction was always a big thing with him. Sometimes if we weren't totally where he thought we should be, he'd come out in front of us and start stroking his beard--just to get us riled up. It was crazy.... But it was fun and we had a great deal of admiration for him. We listened to him and thank God we did because he was the guy who made us successful--there's no doubt about that."
Miller's keen ear for songs and knowledge of what the public wanted resulted in such million-selling Four Lads hits as the nostalgic "Moments to Remember" in 1955 and the sensuous "No, Not Much!" in 1956. Equally well remembered is their 1956 version of "Standing on the Corner (Watching All the Girls Go By)," from Frank Loesser's Broadway musical score for The Most Happy Fella. Busseri remembers that session particularly well: "Now, whenever we did anything from those types of composers, they would come to the sessions," Busseri recalled to Contemporary Musicians. "We always recorded at seven o'clock at night--that's when we liked to record, from seven to ten. So we had 'Standing on the Corner' and Mitch said, 'Let's run it down once.' So we ran it down. He said, 'Why don't we put one on tape?' This was around 7:05. We put it down on tape and Mitch says, 'Well, that's it.' We said, 'What do you mean "that's it"?' He said, 'That's it.' And in walks Frank Loesser and he says, 'Well, are we ready to start?' Mitch says, 'It's all over. Listen to this!' And that was it. We did one take and that was 'Standing on the Corner.' We had obviously captured the feel of the song that Mitch was looking for--and we felt happy with it too."
Rock 'n' Roll Eclipsed Their Style
At their peak, the Four Lads were the personification of the wholesome, clean-cut boy band. Constantly working in the studio, in clubs, and on television, the group somehow found time to sing mass at local churches wherever they were appearing. Even after dozens of hit records, the group continued backing other Columbia artists such as Frankie Laine, Johnnie Ray, Toni Arden, Brock Peters, and Jill Corey.
The quartet's popularity led to them hosting a 1955 summer replacement series for Perry Como--who once introduced them as the Four Aces--and appearing on dozens of other prime-time television shows. Although the group racked up top-ten hits with "Who Needs You" and "Put a Light in the Window" in 1957, and "There's Only One of You" in 1958, their chart clout waned as rock 'n' roll took hold of radio playlists.
Early in the rock revolution, Miller had offered the Lads a chance to cover the Chords' R&B-charting doo-wop classic "Sh-Boom." The group turned it down and got no argument from their producer, who detested rock 'n' roll. "Sh-Boom" ended up becoming a 1954 number-one record for the Lads' former classmates the Crew Cuts. Initially, Miller and the Four Lads' refusal to do rock-oriented material enhanced their respective popularity, but at the end of the decade neither were selling many records.
The Four Lads left Columbia in 1960. Still a popular live act, their LPs for Kapp, Dot, and United Artists were only modest sellers. The group maintained hopes for a chart comeback until they were blindsided by yet another musical phenomenon. "Well, after the Beatles hit we knew that the party was over," Busseri told Contemporary Musicians. "It was obvious. It was over as far as the recording studio was concerned. We made some records after that but nothing with any success. Not only that, but nobody wanted to record people like us--they wanted to do only rock. But we kept working, doing our thing, and singing to our audiences."
Still in Demand
Tired of the road, various members of the Four Lads began dropping out during the 1960s. Connie Codarini left in 1962 and was replaced by the versatile Don Farrar, who can and does sing many different parts depending on the availability of other members; today he is the lead singer. Toorish departed in 1974 to sing with the Vince Mastro Quartet in Ohio and was replaced by Aaron Bruce, who previously sang with big band orchestras led by Dick Jurgens and Jan Garber. Arnold didn't retire until 1984 when Alan Sokolof was hired. With Busseri the only remaining member of the original group, the Lads work as much as they want to, mostly in package shows with other performers from the same era.
by Ken Burke
The Four Lads's Career
Formed as the Four Dukes, in Toronto, Canada, 1949; renamed the Four Lads, recorded for Okeh label, sang back-up on Johnnie Ray's dual-sided Okeh hit "Cry" and "The Little White Cloud That Cried," 1951; recorded their own hit "The Mocking Bird" for Okeh, 1952; recorded with Columbia Records, 1953-60; recorded million-selling hit "Moments to Remember," 1955; recorded million-selling hit "No, Not Much!" and "Standing on the Corner," 1956; scored top-ten hits "Who Needs You," "Put a Light in the Window," 1957; released last top-ten pop hit "There's Only One of You," 1958; signed with Kapp Records, 1961; recorded for Dot, 1962; signed with United Artists, 1963.
The Four Lads's Awards
Induction, Juno Awards Hall of Fame (Canada), 1984.
- Selected discography
- Four Lads Sings Frank Loesser , Columbia, 1957; reissued, Collectables, 2001.
- Four on the Aisle , Columbia, 1959; reissued, Collectables, 2000.
- (With Johnnie Ray) 16 Most Requested Songs , Legacy, 1991.
- (With Frankie Laine) Frankie Laine & Friends , Prestige Music, 1998.
- Moments to Remember: The Very Best of the Four Lads , Taragon, 2000.
- Breezin' Along/Sunny Side , Collectables, 2001.
- Swing Along / Everything Goes , Collectables, 2001.
June 15, 2004: James F. Arnold, the original tenor of the group, died June 15, 2004, in Sacramento, California, of lung cancer. He was 72. Source: Entertainment Weekly, July 16, 2004, p. 24; New York Times, July 5, 2004, p. B7.
- Brown, Tony, Jon Kutner, and Neil Warwick, editors, The Complete Book of the British Charts: Singles and Albums, Omnibus, 2000.
- Knopper, Steve, editor, MusicHound Lounge: The Essential Album Guide to Martini Music and Easy Listening, Visible Ink, 1998.
- Nite, Norm N., Rock On: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock N' Roll, Popular Library, 1977.
- Warner, Jay, The Billboard Book of American Singing Groups: A History 1940-1990, Billboard, 1992.
- Whitburn, Joel, editor, The Billboard Book of Top 40 Albums: The Complete Chart Guide to Every Album in the Top 40 Since 1955, Billboard, 1995.
- Whitburn, Joel, editor, The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits: Complete Chart Information about the Artists and Their Songs 1955-2000,seventh edition, Billboard, 2000.
- "Four Lads," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (November 24, 2002).
- "The Four Lads," Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia, http://www.canoe.ca/JamMusicPopEncycloPagesF/four.html (November 25, 2002).
- "The Four Lads," MusicWeb Encyclopaedia of Popular Music, http://www.musicweb.uk.net/encyclopaedia/f/F69.HTM (November 24, 2002).
- The Four Lads Official Website, http://www.the4lads.com (November 24, 2002).
- Additional information was obtained from an interview with Four Lads founding member Frank Busseri.
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