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The Fairfield Four: Still Rockin' Their Souls

The Fairfield Four traces its roots back to 1921, when the group was founded in the basement of Nashville’s Fairfield Baptist Church. The original members have all passed away, but their legacy lives on. We caught up with the newest incarnation of the group in Nashville to talk about their near-100 year-history.

“I grew up watching the Fairfield Four at the Ryman Auditorium. I never had the idea that one day I would be a member,” says tenor Levert Allison.

Bass singer, Joe Thompson, a cousin of original members Harold and Rufus Carrethers, recalls seeing the group as a boy.  “We used to stand on the corner and imitate the Fairfield Four,” recalls Thompson. “I didn't know I was related to them until my mom told me, but we used to listen to them--that’s all we had to listen to when I was coming up.”

The original Fairfield Four made their first recording in 1941 and performed for over 40 years together, including a ten-year stint on Nashville’s WLAC radio. They disbanded in 1962, but a reunion concert in 1980 introduced them to a whole new audience and breathed new life into the group. “It seemed to have been able to weather all the storms, says Bobbye Sherrell. “There was always somebody that the Lord put in place to step right in. I think it is a spirit-filled group and supplied by the spirit of the Lord.”                            

The rebirth of the group made them so popular that they were signed to Warner brothers and won their first Grammy in 1992. Since then, they’ve also recorded with artists like Elvis Costello, John Fogerty, and country singer Lee Ann Womack. “I think the reason so many artists reach out to us to be a part of their recordings is because, first of all, they like the sound that we’re producing,” says Larice Byrd. “But secondly, and most important, I think it’s the anointing that is in our singing.”

“If you listen to all of our songs, they all came out of the Bible,” says Thompson. “And I know it touches some people. I saw one fellow after a show with his head on Byrd’s shoulder crying like a baby. So I know God had got his hands on what we do.”

In 2000, the Fairfield Four also performed on the soundtrack for the Coen Brothers’ film O Brother, Where Art Thou? The eclectic collection of folk, old-time country, and gospel songs sold over ten million copies, stunning many in the music industry---but not Larrice Byrd. “I’m not surprised at all,” he says. “I think the world still wants so much more of that. It was so original back in those days.

The Fairfield Four’s repertoire is a mixture of spirituals, hymns, and an occasional contemporary song—but always with the unmistakable arrangement that is unique to this a cappella group.  

In 2016, the Fairfield won a Grammy for Best Roots Gospel Album. It was not just an emotional high point for the group, but also a validation for this newest version of the group. “It was so emotional,” Allison says. “I used to look at people getting them and think. ‘Why are they crying? Why are they doing that?’ But now I understand. It's really unexplainable how you feel getting a Grammy.” Byrd says, “Up until that point, we did feel like we were in the shadows of our predecessors. The Grammy that we received sort of solidified our place.”
 
And although they are grateful for the acclaim and awards, the members say they have a higher purpose, and a higher calling. “We believe this group was ordained by God, and it's been led by God all the way,” Larrice Byrd says. “Wherever we sing, the message is the same. We are spreading the good news of Jesus Christ through the words of our songs. And we are hoping that we can introduce our Lord and Savior to the ones who haven't accepted Him in their lives.”

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