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Freeman, Isaac Dickie
Gospel Bass Fairfield Four
Born: 1929 Johns, AL
Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame
Nashville gospel singer Isaac ‘Dickie’ Freeman dies at 84
Posted on October 18, 2012 by Peter Cooper
Isaac “Dickie” Freeman, a Grammy winner and Gospel Music Hall of Fame member who starred for decades as the bass singer of Nashville-based gospel quartet the Fairfield Four, died Tuesday, Oct. 16, after years of declining health.
“He was the baddest and greatest bass singer, to me,” said singer Regina McCrary, daughter of longtime Fairfield Four leader Sam McCrary. “Listening to him sing bass made you just stand up, and your mouth would drop.”
Mr. Freeman, whose voice was a crucial and distinctive element in the Fairfield’s sound, was 84.
Raised in Johns, Ala., he was the child of a single mother who died young. In his teen years, he was raised by his grandmother, who often took him to worship and hear the music at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Johns. Mr. Freeman’s grandmother died when he was in his late teens, and he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, to live with an aunt.
After a quick audition, he joined quartet the Golden Tones, then moved to the Kings of Harmony and, in 1948, on to the Fairfield Four.
At the time, the Four had a reputation for thrilling live performances, and they had a regular show on Nashville’s powerful WLAC radio. That didn’t make their travels through the segregated South any easier.
“It was rough,” Freeman told Bill Friskics-Warren of No Depression magazine. “Some places we could use the restroom, some we couldn’t. The ones where we could, we always had to go around back. And at that time, they would have two restrooms — one marked ‘white,’ the other marked ‘colored.’ ”
Mr. Freeman exited the group in 1950 and founded a new, Alabama-based quartet called the Skylarks. But he moved back to Nashville in 1962 and worked at Metro Courthouse and at a water company.
In 1980, the classic Fairfield Four lineup reunited and began playing sporadic shows. Ten years later, Amy Grant booked the Four for a benefit concert at her home, and that performance led to a record deal with Warner Bros. Nashville. Soon, the Fairfield Four were Grammy-nominated, and they opened theater shows for Lyle Lovett.
In 1999, the group’s “I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray” album won a traditional gospel Grammy, and the following year, Mr. Freeman and the Fairfield Four were featured in the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” motion picture and on the wildly successful “O Brother” soundtrack.
Mr. Freeman’s bass voice was now being heard by millions of listeners, and in 2002, Mr. Freeman released his first solo album: Produced by Kieran Kane, “Beautiful Stars” featured backing from Mike Henderson’s Bluebloods band and from The McCrary Sisters.
“The first thing one notices about ‘Beautiful Stars’ is that voice,” wrote a New York Times reviewer. “Press ‘play’ and it jumps out of the stereo louder, warmer and more present than almost any instrument could.”
Born into poverty and segregation, Mr. Freeman ascended to international acclaim, collaborated with stars including John Fogerty, Elvis Costello and Johnny Cash, and forged a reputation as a well-recognized gospel great. Offstage, he was a concerned and caring friend, doting on the McCrary sisters after their father died in 1989.
“To lose him, it’s like losing our daddy again,” Regina McCrary said. “He represented the Fairfield Four, and my chest stuck out about five miles just to see him walk into a room. I know his spirit and his heart, and we just loved him. And when he opened his mouth and went to sing, he wasn’t guessing at what he was singing. He knew it, and it was just awesome.”
With the tradition of quartet bass singers all but lost it should come as no surprise that we take time to review the solo project of basso Legend Isaac "Dickie" Freeman. Known throughout the quartet industry for years as one of the best bass singers, Freeman has proven his skills throughout the years. Having first made a name for himself in the Legendary Kings of Harmony, Freeman moved on to the Fairfield Four in 1949. For 12 years the Fairfield Four were heard on Nashville's WLAC 50,000 watt station every Sunday morning from 6:45-7:00 AM. Their voices became synonymous with quartet in the south. With hard times and other circumstance the year of 1950 found Freeman, James Hill and Preacher Thomas in yet another Nashville group called The Skylarks.
It was in the Skylarks that Freeman's bass vocals really caught the attention of quartet fans. In fact most of their hit selection were lead by Freeman himself. Who can forget the beautiful arrangements of "Crying In The Chapel", "Baptism of Jesus", and so many others? At the ripe age of 73 Isaac Freeman has given the industry yet another jewel in the form of this new CD release. Though the CD was released in late 2001 overseas it has finally become available at all major outlets in the United States. However, due to the obscurity of the Dead Reckoning label we will present this release under the independent section.
Enlisting the help of Mike Henderson & The Blue Bloods world famous Nashville aggregation one would expect a heavy blues sound. While this is the case with some selections, for the most part this is Dickie Freeman at his best. It would seem though that the title of the CD should read "Isaac Freeman & The McCrary Sisters", for the background vocals are handled by the great Rev. Sam McCrary's daughters. As many Fairfield Four fans know, Rev. McCrary was the backbone of the group during the early years and his daughters literally carry on his tradition.
From the opening bars of the first selection the listener is blown away by the bass range of Mr. Freeman. His ability to not only sing the deepest registers of the music scale but sing expressively is an art all to itself. The project opens with one of Freeman's earliest selections "Standing on The Highway". Though this song was made famous during the 1940s by the Angelic Gospel Singers and Dixie Hummingbirds, Dickie places his own unique stamp on this classic. The song moves flawlessly from a slow ballad like tempo to a rocking hand clapping shout song in no time.
Freeman then shows his ability to adapt to the smooth blues sounds of the Blue Bloods on "Because He Lives". While listening to this soothing selection it becomes apparent that this combination of blues band and Freeman is definitely history in the making. Complete with swooping moans by the McCrary Sisters Regina an Ann, Dickie gives this classic hymn new life in true bass fashion. As the project moves on it becomes evident that Freeman has not only left us with great singing but also an up close portrait of his life. Selections such as the aforementioned "Standing On The Highway", "Don't Drive Your Child Away", and "Beautiful Stars" begin with great monologues about various life experiences of the quartet Legend.
Other songs of note include the head bobbing version of "Jesus Is On The Mainline". The Bluebloods are in rare form on this classic selection. While listening to this selection you can't help but realize the real importance of having live musicians and not the obnoxious sounding programmed instruments. My only complaint on this great selection is it's length. Though it lasts a comfortable three minutes and twenty nine seconds I really could have handled another four or five minutes of quartet bliss. Since it's debut on the Gloryland Quartet radio program about three or four months ago "Beautiful Stars" has been one of the most requested selections by you the listeners. This beautiful ballad is fashioned to fit Freeman's style to perfection. After the first verse of this ballad Dickie directs each of the band members with all of the professionalism of a 1920s big band leader.
Isaac Freeman & The Blue Bloods "Beautiful Stars" is a definite must have in any quartet collection. While I do belive the blues sound is something you have to get used to, it does make for real down home sounding quartet. If you enjoyed the Blind Boys of Alabama's Grammy winning "Spirit of The Century" you will absolutely love this release by Isaac "Dickie" Freeman". Pick up your copy of this CD at your local record shop today, or you may order it on-line at (Cdnow.com, amazon.com, towerrecords.com, etc..) I give this project a 8 out of 10.
The Fairfield Four is a gospel group that has existed for over 80 years. They started as a trio in Nashville, Tennessee's Fairfield Baptist Church in 1921. They were designated as National Heritage Fellows in 1989 by the National Endowment for the Arts. The group won the 1998 Grammy for Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album. As a quintet, they featured briefly in the motion picture O Brother, Where Art Thou?.
The group gained more popular recognition after appearing on John Fogerty's 1997 album Blue Moon Swamp, singing on the track "A Hundred and Ten in the Shade". They also undertook live appearances with Fogerty.
Members: Reverend Sam McCrary, James Hill (baritone), Isaac 'Dickie' Freeman (bass), Willie Richardson, Robert Hamlett, Ed Hall, Joe Thompson, Edward Thomas (tenor), Willie Frank Lewis (utility)
Past members: Harold Carrethers (baritone), Rufus Carrethers (bass), John Battle (lead), Lattimer Green (second lead), Wilson 'Lit' Waters, Roscoe Shelton, Bobby Hebb
National Endowment for the Arts, National Heritage Award, 1989
Tennessee Lifetime Achievement Award, 1994
Nashville Music Award Lifetime Achievement Award, 1995
James Cleveland Stellar Award, 1996
Grammy Award, Best Traditional Gospel Recording, for I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray, 1997
Gospel Music Hall of Fame, inducted in 1999
Standing in the Safety Zone, Warner Bros. Records, 1992
I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray, Warner Bros. Records, 1997
Wreckin' the House, Dead Reckoning, 1998
Fairfield Four and Friends Live from Mountain Stage, Blue Plate, 2000
The Bells Are Tolling, Ace, 2001
Road to Glory, Fuel, 2001
Beautiful Stars, Isaac Freeman and the Bluebloods, Lost Highway, 2002
"Lonesome Valley", on O Brother, Where Art Thou? (soundtrack), 2000
Lifted: Songs of the Spirit (2002, Sony/Hear Music) - "Roll Jordan Roll"
1^ a b Viglione, Joe. "Roscoe Shelton". Allmusic. Retrieved March 22, 2010.