The Fairfield Four began as a vocal trio that first performed in Nashville's Fairfield Baptist Church in 1921. The trio became a quartet in 1925, sang at other churches and social gatherings for nearly a decade, and then made its radio debut on WSIX in 1937. In July 1942, the group entered a contest sponsored by the Colonial Coffee Company and won an appearance on WLAC Radio in Nashville. They proved so popular that they soon had their own nationally syndicated radio show, which was heard every morning, five days a week for the next ten years. In addition to the radio show, the group toured extensively before launching their commercial recording career in 1946 with several sessions for the Bullet Record Company. Since then, the group has amassed more than 100 titles. Although they went into semi-retirement in the late '60s, they got back together in 1980 for a quartet reunion in Birmingham, Alabama. They electrified the audience with an authentic gospel sound that had all but disappeared in the intervening years. In 1989, the group was named a national treasure when the NEA honored the Fairfield Four with a National Heritage Fellowship. They continue to tour and record, as their schedules allow, and have appeared at Carnegie Hall, toured across Europe and the U.S., and opened for Lyle Lovett and others. Their most recent recording, I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray (Warner Bros. Records), includes performances by Elvis Costello and Pam Tillis, as well as a scripture recitation by Garrison Keillor. Now made up of six singers, the Fairfield Four are still dedicated to the heritage of jubilee gospel singing. Performing tonight are: James Hill, Isaac Freeman, Wilson Waters, Robert Hamlett, Joseph Rice, and Nate Best.
Doc Watson was born Arthel L. Watson in Deep Gap, North Carolina, on March 23, 1923. His first instrument was the banjo, but at age 13, he taught himself "When the Roses Bloom in Dixieland" on a borrowed guitar. His delighted father bought him a $12 Stella. He later picked up some chords from a fellow student at Raleigh School for the Blind and began incorporating material he heard on records and the radio with the music of his heritage. Back home, he played with neighbors and friends, including fiddler Gaither Carlton, who became his father-in-law when Watson married Rosa Lee Carlton in 1947. In 1953, he met Jack Williams, a local piano player, with whom he began to play gigs for money. He performed with Williams' rockabilly/swing band for seven years, but continued to play traditional music with his family and his neighbor, banjo player Clarence "Tom" Ashley. In 1960, Ralph Rinzler and Eugene Earle came south to record Ashley and heard Watson in the process. The sessions resulted in his first recording, Old-Time Music at Clarence Ashley's. His appearance at a now-legendary 1961 concert in New York City, sponsored by the Friends of Old-Time Music, led to Watson's first solo performance a year later. From then on, he was a full-time professional, playing concerts and festivals at venues including the Newport Folk Festival and Carnegie Hall. As the folk revival began to wane in the late '60s, Watson teamed up with his son Merle on guitar and banjo. The two played with the band Frosty Morn, toured Europe, Japan, and Africa, and recorded with Flatt & Skruggs, Chet Atkins, and the Nitty Gritty Band before Merle died in a tractor accident in 1985. Watson now accepts a limited number of engagements with guitarist JACK LAWRENCE. For the past several years, he has hosted the annual Merle Watson Memorial Festival in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, where he can give full breadth to his musical imagination and still sleep in his own house, on land homesteaded by his great-great grandfather.