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James Hill
James Hill
July 6, 2000
Age 83 
 Cause of Death Pending 
 
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Editor's Pick:  I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray
 
 
 
 

OBITUARY 
   Grammy-Winning Gospel Singer James Hill Dies
 
                       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

    
  
 
NY TIMES
 
James Hill, 83, Baritone in Venerable Gospel Group
              By JON PARELES 

              James Hill, the leader and baritone voice of the Fairfield Four gospel 
              group, died July 6 at a hospital in Nashville, The Tennessean 
              reported. He was 83 and lived in Nashville.  

              The Fairfield Four, founded in 1921, became one of gospel's 
              best-known groups. They sang unaccompanied in the classic quartet 
              style, with fervent voices growling and leaping out of rhythmic chords.  

              The group was founded by the Rev. J. R. Carrethers at Fairfield Baptist 
              Church in Nashville, initially as the duo of his sons; it grew to a quartet 
              and eventually included up to six members singing four-part harmony. 
              After the tenor Sam McCrary joined in 1935, the group's reputation 
              grew locally. In 1941 it was recorded for the folk-music archives of the 
              Library of Congress. The Fairfield Four won a competition to appear on 
              a radio show, and from 1942 to 1952 they were heard on WLAC in 
              Nashville, and nationally over the CBS radio network, from 6:45 to 7 
              a.m.  

              Mr. Hill was born July 25, 1916, in Bessemer, Ala. With a powerful 
              voice but no formal musical training, he joined the group on Thanksgiving 
              Day in 1946, at a time when the group and gospel quartet singing were 
              reaching a peak of popularity.  

              But in the early 1950's, gospel's popularity waned. A funeral parlor 
              owned by the group also had business difficulties. While Mr. McCrary 
              toured with various groups using the Fairfield Four name, Mr. Hill and 
              the group's bass, Isaac Freeman, formed the Skylarks. But the heyday of 
              quartet singing had passed. Mr. Hill worked as a courthouse cleaner, a 
              sheriff's deputy and a police sergeant and ran a restaurant called the 
              Tombstone. He made a brief appearance as a police officer in Robert 
              Altman's 1974 film "Nashville."  

              In 1980 the Fairfield Four's late-1940's lineup was persuaded to reunite 
              by a gospel scholar, Doug Seroff, for a concert in Birmingham. The 
              group began touring again, and in 1989 it received a National Heritage 
              Fellowship, the traditional-arts award from the National Endowment for 
              the Arts.  

              The group signed a contract with Warner Brothers Records in 1990 and 
              was discovered by rock and country songwriters; the Four toured and 
              performed with Lyle Lovett, John Fogerty, Elvis Costello and Steve 
              Earle. Retiring members were gradually replaced during the 1980's and 
              90's, but Mr. Hill and Mr. Freeman continued to sing with the group. Its 
              1997 album, "I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray," won a Grammy as best 
              traditional soul gospel album.  

              The group's manager, Lee Olsen, said the group was discussing whether 
              to continue without Mr. Hill.  

              Mr. Hill is survived by three sons, Wayne and Anthony Hill of Nashville 
              and Lawrence Dulin of Evansville, Ind.; a stepson, Riley Hackworth of 
              Niagara Falls, N.Y.; a stepdaughter, Margie Patton; six grandchildren; 
              and 17 great-grandchildren. 

 
       
 

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All-Music Guide
The Fairfield Four
       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

 
 
  
 
 

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