The Fairfield Four has roots that stretch back almost a hundred years. The Gospel quartet's current lineup -- who call themselves "The Third Generation" -- are still on the road and in the recording studios today.
With new album Still Rockin' My Soul, they continue to bring fans some of the most potent and soulful Gospel music out there. Their music has been featured in television shows as well as movies (O Brother, Where Art Thou? is one of many highlights) over the years.
Bass singer and senior member Joseph Thompson filled Billboard in on some of the history of the quartet. "My cousins started the group back in 1921. A fellow named Sam McCrary came into the group, and he was instrumental in keeping the group together for many years when someone would pass or would go to another group. He would snatch me out of high school to keep the group going until he found somebody else." Part of their longevity centers on their commitment to the lyrics they sing, he says. "The Fairfield Four is a church-oriented group. They were formed in the Fairfield Baptist Church in Nashville, and we are trying to keep that legacy going. We are all active in our different churches. Levert Allison is the minister at his church, Brother Bobbye Sherrell is the music director, Larrice Byrd is the keyboard player and guitar player, and I am the bass in the choir, so we are all trying to be active and keep it just like it started."
What has held the public's interest in The Fairfield Four? Trends come and go in musical circles, Allison says, but the message they proclaim with their music is the same that the group implored in 1921, 1965 and today.
"It makes us feel real proud when you find people that are still holding on to that sound and what it stands for," he said. "We're just overwhelmed from the feeling that we get from the people. We believe it's all led by God and his word."
One artist who has become a Fairfield Four fan is Lee Ann Womack, who guests on Still Rockin' My Soul performing the classic "Children Go Where I Send Thee." Allison said the fandom is very mutual. "She did a PBS show here at a church that has been around for decades and wanted to perform it with us. We just fell in love with her and decided that we needed to record it with her. She's a great person, and we just love her." Fellow member Sherrell agrees, saying, "That song has been put out a lot of times, but I think the combination of her style and our style really just opened it up." The live performance of that song can also be heard on the CD/DVD set Rock My Soul.
The rich and textured harmonies of The Fairfield Four come from many musical locations, stresses Byrd. "I'm from South Florida, where there are so many nationalities, and I could hear a little bit of everything -- reggae, blues, R&B, pop and country -- so all of those sounds were a big influence on me. I can't say there's one particular style, but it was more about the variety and the melody for me. That really set me on the path of listening to everything and being appreciative of all different kinds of music. My mother was a singer, so I was raised in a home where there was a lot of music, and we had a little group, so if I had to define it from one spot, I would have to say that my mother directed me in a Gospel way."
After all these years, the quartet continues to pick up fans each year. In 2015, the schedule is looking as busy as it has looked in some time. That's something that Byrd loves. "We like being busy. I can't wait to go, but I will say when we come back, I'm ready to return to my own pillow. There's no place like home. I believe it's in our blood to want to do this, because first of all, we're doing it for God. You're always enthused to go. You're just always pushing yourself to get better and go farther and farther."
On many of those performances, the quartet is joined onstage by The McCrary Sisters – who are the daughters of the afore-mentioned Sam. That kinship – on and off the stage – is a very natural thing, says Sherrell. "They're family. Blood is thicker than mud, and they are Sam's kids, and were always there going to rehearsals or a program with The Fairfield Four. They have it in them, as far as ministering. They're standing and holding their ground. We look out for them, as well as them for us too."