The Four Tunes Biography

The Four Tunes, like many African-American groups of the 40s and early 50s, were a pop rather than a R&B ensemble. The group had its origin in the Brown Dots, and was formed by Ivory ‘Deek’ Watson (18 July 1909, Mounds, Illinois, USA, d. 4 November 1969, Washington, DC, USA) after he first fell out with the rest of the Ink Spots in November 1944. The other members of the original Brown Dots line-up were Pat Best (b. William Best, 6 June 1923, Wilmington, North Carolina, USA, d. 14 October 2004, Roseville, California, USA; baritone), Jimmy Gordon (bass) and Joe King (first tenor), although the latter was quickly replaced by Jimmy Nabbie (b. USA, d. September 1992). While still with the Brown Dots, Best, Gordon and Nabbie left Watson and joined with second tenor Danny Owens in 1946 to record on the Manor label as the Sentimentalists, changing their name shortly afterwards to the Four Tunes. As the Sentimentalists they backed Savannah Churchill on her bestselling 1947 R&B chart-topper ‘I Want To Be Loved (But Only By You)’. The following year, and now known as the Four Tunes, the quartet backed Churchill on the Top 20 R&B hits ‘Time Out For Tears’ (number 10) and ‘I Want To Cry’ (number 14). After a two year spell on RCA - Victor Records, during which time their former label Manor/Arco continued to release Four Tunes material, the quartet moved to the Jubilee label and enjoyed two big hits with a cover version of Irving Berlin’s ‘Marie’ (number 2 R&B, number 13 pop) from 1953, and Pat Best’s ‘I Understand Just How You Feel’ (number 7 R&B, number 6 pop) from 1954. The Four Tunes continued recording for Jubilee until 1957, with further releases appearing on smaller labels such as Crosby and Robin’s Nest (as the Four Tunes And One). Their musical legacy was remembered in 1961 when the G-Clefs had a big pop hit with ‘I Understand Just How You Feel’ and in 1965 when the Bachelors had success with ‘Marie’.

The original line-up of the Four Tunes sundered in 1963 when Jimmy Nabbie and Danny Owens were replaced by Billy Wells and Gaines Steele, while Frank Dawes (tenor/piano) was brought in as a utility singer in the mid-60s. This line-up, with the addition of drummer Chuck Hampton, recorded an album for the Ara label in 1969 under the Tunes moniker. The group kept going throughout subsequent decades, although Wells left in the 80s for medical reasons and was replaced by Andre Williams, who in turn made way for Rufus McKay. Pat Best and Jimmy Gordon finally wound the group up in the late 90s.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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