The Fairfield Four is the most distinguished traditional African American a cappella gospel quartet working today, celebrating 96 years of bringing the gospel message to audiences worldwide.
A cappella gospel quartets have their roots in the Negro spirituals of the American South. Enslaved Africans combined English hymns with West African rhythms and singing to create a musical form expressing Christian devotion and the desire for freedom. In the 1870s, the Fisk Jubilee Singers inspired “jubilee” gospel, featuring close harmonies and formal arrangements. Over time, the jubilee quartet style became less staid, incorporating syncopated rhythms and the spiritual fervor of the Holiness church. The Fairfield Four’s style was drawn from the Birmingham, Alabama quartet tradition, characterized by a percussive bass voice anchoring middle harmonies sung on repeated rhythmic syllables and a tenor voice carrying the lead.
First organized in 1921 by Reverend J.R. Carrethers of the Fairfield Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, the Fairfield Four’s line-up has shifted over the decades; the beautiful harmonies and stirring gospel message have not. They have steadfastly remained committed to unaccompanied singing, despite many contemporaries adding rhythm sections. The group’s current singers—Joe Thompson, Levert Allison, Bobbye Sherrell, and Larrice Byrd—ensure the founding members’ sound lives on. As Mr. Allison told The Tennessean, “Our style is rare and we refuse to let it die away.”