The highly influential, Grammy Award-winning gospel group The Fairfield Four has lost member Robert Hamlett.
Hamlett died on Monday, Feb. 1, at age 84. He had been a member of the group for more than 30 years.
The Fairfield Four is one of America’s most enduring gospel-music acts. Founded at Nashville’s Fairfield Baptist Church in 1921, the group became radio stars on WSIX in the late 1930s. Lead tenor Sam McCrary (1913-1991) joined in 1935. He made The Fairfield Four a nationally recognized force when the group joined WLAC in 1942. Its program became a CBS network fixture for the next decade. McCrary’s daughters are today’s popular group The McCrary Sisters.
The Fairfield Four underwent several personnel changes over the years. The group began recording in 1946. It issued more than 100 titles on such labels as Bullet, Champion, Dot, Delta, Nashboro, MGM and Old Town. Its signature song became “Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around.”
McCrary became an ordained minister in 1954. He reorganized and revived The Fairfield Four in 1980. Robert Hamlett joined in 1984, just as the group was poised to achieve its greatest successes.
During the next few years, The Fairfield Four appeared at Carnegie Hall, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the Smithsonian Institution’s Festival of American Folklife. The singers were regulars at Nashville’s Summer Lights downtown celebrations, as well as at the Tennessee Grassroots Days events in Centennial Park.
Hamlett and the group performed on records by Elvis Costello, John Fogerty, Dolly Parton and Amy Grant. The National Endowment for the Arts honored The Fairfield Four with its National Heritage Award in 1989. In 1995, the group won a Lifetime Achievement prize at the Nashville Music Awards. The group was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1999.
In 1998, The Fairfield Four won a Grammy Award for its CD I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray. Hamlett and the group appeared as gravediggers in the film O Brother Where Art Thou. In 2002, its soundtrack won the group its second Grammy Award.
Hamlett continued to sing with The Fairfield Four during the ensuing decade. He performed on the 2014 PBS-TV special Rock My Soul, filmed at Nashville’s Downtown Presbyterian Church. The group’s most recent album is 2015’s Grammy-nominated Still Rockin’ My Soul.
Funeral arrangements for Robert Hamlett have not been announced.
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