The Little Four Quartet is one of more obscure vocal harmony groups appearing in Soundies. In the late 1930s the four vocalists were working separately in Manhattan at various nightclubs and restaurants. They apparently came together as the Little Four Quartet late in 1940, although the first reviews in the trades do not turn up until 1942. Charles Shanks was the leader of the group and sang 1st tenor. The three other voices were Clarence Todd, 2nd tenor; George Timber, baritone; and Ray Giles, bass.
In 1942 the quartet was signed by Consolidated Radio Artists and went on tour. They were booked mostly in the eastern United States and played dates in New York City, Pennsylvania, Charleston, Columbus, and Rochester. On November 20, 1943 the quartet made what was billed as a “return engagement” on the experimental DuMont television network. The Little Four Quartet was finally able to record in 1944 and/or 1946, waxing two sides for Southern Records. After that the group seems to have disbanded, or at least toured and performed less frequently.
Three soundtracks and all sideline photography were completed the week of September 18, 1944. The final editing of Love Grows On a White Oak Tree was delayed, however, and a segment featuring the Skeets Tolbert band (without Tolbert), filmed during the week of October 1944, was inserted into the Little Four performance. The musicians seen on screen have nothing to do with the Jack Shaindlin soundtrack and are there to create visual interest only.
The sound of the Little Four Quartette is very engaging, but it older in style that the Mills Brothers or Delta Rhythm Boys. The gospel tradition is at the foundation of the group’s sound, and I am reminded of the Golden Gate Quartet.
Returning to the sideline performance by the members of the Skeets Tolbert band, we see proto-bopper Leonard Hawkins on trumpet. The guitarist on screen is Ebenezer Paul ( He is, of course, the string bass player highly visible in the Minton’s scene earlier in the decade.) As guitar master Nick Rossi has pointed out, his “fingering” during the solo has nothing to do with what we hear on soundtrack.The Little Four Quartette was paid $200.00 for their performance in three Soundies. Money well spent, I would say.