James Hill

Born: 1917, Bessemer, Alabama

Baritone for the Fairfield Four gospel group, Hill was one of the original members. In the 1950's, Hill joined Isaac Freeman to form another quartet, the Skylarks. The original four reunited in 1980 for a concert in Birmingham, Alabama. The group backed up a number of performers, including Johnny Cash, John Fogerty, Steve Earle and Elvis Costello. "I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray," album won a Grammy as best traditional soul gospel recording in 1997. Hill also played a minor role in the Robert Altman movie "Nashville."

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame






Baritone singer James Hill was the owner of one of the most perfect voices in the recording industry. He was famous for his participation in two historic vocal groups, the black gospel">black gospel group Fairfield Four, and the more pop-oriented Skylarks, but this Hill was part of the scenery at a variety of recording sessions by top artists, making contributions to several generations of the pop music landscape. The Fairfield Four developed a unique a cappella style during the '40s and became one of the top groups in this genre, both in its original incarnation with original member Hill, as well as in a revival of the group which began in 1980, with Hill's responsibilities then including management as well as singing.

The Skylarks first flew in 1950 after the first breakup of the Fairfield Four. Hill joined forces with fabulous Fairfield Four fellow Isaac Freeman to form a group that was in demand as a vocal sweetener on recordings by artists such as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Russ Morgan. Both alone and as a member of the revived Fairfield Four, Hill continued to sing on a surprising range of commercial releases during his career. He could certainly be considered a part of the Nashville studio scene, having lived most of his life in that area and showing up on country & western releases from Johnny Cash and Marty Stuart, as well as a few others that don't dress in black. Hill provided a rich vocal bottom for John Fogerty on that artist's solo recordings, and also backed up performers such as Elvis Costello and Steve Earle in both concerts and on recordings.

I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray, a 1997 release by the Fairfield Four, won a Grammy for best traditional soul gospel recording. It had been a long road since March of 1942 when the the Library of Congress first recorded the group at a Baptist church in Nashville. Unissued at the time, this historic recording of "Don't Let Nobody Turn You Around" was finally released as part of a Document collection of field recordings. In 1998, the revived quartet also did well with the song "Wreckin' the House," released by the Dead Reckoning label. The year before Hill's death, the Fairfield Four traveled to New York with Stuart and filmed a television tribute for Cash, the country star and not the mode of payment.

Hill was also known for a variety of other contributions to the Nashville community, besides playing a bit part as a policeman in the Robert Altman movie masterpiece named after the country music capital. Hill and his wife managed a Third Avenue restaurant unappealingly called Tombstone at one point, while his combo also owned its own funeral parlor, the Fairfield Four Funeral Home. This appears to be the only case in music history of a group owning its own mortuary, though it is something for the black metal crowd to think about. Hill also worked as both a sheriff's deputy and Nashville police sergeant, and served as a deacon at Temple Baptist Church. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi

Source: http://www.answers.com/topic/james-hill-8#ixzz1DV5i9pn5



During the 1940s, the Fairfield Four were among the top-ranked gospel quartets, along with the Dixie Hummingbirds, Five Blind Boys, and Soul Stirrers. Originally a gospel duet created in the early '20s by the pastor of Fairfield Baptist Church in Nashville to occupy his sons, Harry and Rufus Carrethers, they became a gospel trio with the addition of John Battle. The group was transformed into a jubilee quartet by the '30s and began the first of numerous personnel changes. They recorded for RCA Victor and Columbia during the decade and were known for their reinterpretations of standard hymns, featuring bright, close baritone and tenor harmonies. When the Fairfield Four sang, they utilized the full extent of their voices, moving easily from deep, rolling basslines to the staccato upper peaks of the tenor range, all executed with precise, intricate harmonies and ever-shifting leads. The Fairfield Four reached their broadest audience when the Sunway Vitamin Company sponsored a nationally broadcast radio show for them daily at 6:45 a.m. on WLAC, Nashville. At the same time, they also continued touring; it was a grueling schedule, especially with the drive to Nashville, and often the group would be missing a member or two on the show. In 1942, the quartet recorded for the Library of Congress, but by 1950, it all became too much. Coupled with some financial trouble and a dwindling radio audience, the Fairfield Four broke up, though one member, Reverend Sam McCary, used the group name to perform with other quartets. In 1980, the Fairfield Four from the '40s was reunited for a concert in Birmingham, Alabama, by Black gospel specialist Doug Seroff. In 1989, they were designated as National Heritage Fellows by the National Endowment for the Arts. They continue to perform, though the original members are either deceased or retired. -- Sandra Brennan & Bil Carpenter, All Music Guide




Grammy-winning gospel singer James Hill of the Fairfield Four died Thursday (July 6) morning in Nashville at the age of 83. Hill and the rest of the Nashville-based, Alabama-bred Fairfield Four rose to prominence during the 1940s, joining acts like the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Five Blind Boys, and the Soul Stirrers as the most popular gospel outfits of the day. They were celebrated  for their renditions of traditional hymns, tight harmonies, and Hill's baritone voice. The group disbanded in 1950, but reformed in 1980, and continued to perform and release albums like 1998's Wreckin' the House. In 1989 they were designated as National Heritage Fellows by the National Endowment for the Arts. In recent years, Hill and the rest of the Fairfield Four lent their voices to albums from Johnny Cash, John Fogerty, Steve Earle, and Elvis Costello. "I came to record with them at a studio in Nashville, and at the beginning James led with a prayer," Costello told The Tennessean newspaper. "Sometimes people put on a little show of their faith, but with James Hill it was just pure emotion and belief." The recording with Costello was included on the band's 1997 album I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray, which earned them a Grammy for Best Traditional Gospel Recording.Hill's bandmate Isaac Freeman told The Tennessean he wasn't sure if the group would carry on without Hill, stating, "I've got a lot to think about."

Hill was born in Bessemer, Ala., but spent most of his adult life in Nashville. In the late 1940s he and the other members of the Fairfield Four owned the Fairfield Four Funeral Home. In between stints in the Fairfield Four, he worked as a sheriff's deputy, a police sergeant, and a deacon at Nashville's Temple Baptist Church. He also appeared in the Robert Altman movie Nashville as a police officer.

Funeral arrangements were still being finalized. Smith Brothers Funeral Directors Inc. told The Tennessean that Hill is "survived by children, a host of other relatives, and friends."  CD Now -- Pat Berkery


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