“The one thing that unites all of us who love gospel music,” says Bill, “is an appreciation for tight-knit harmony that is blended beautifully. The Melody Four did that as well as anybody I know, and they did it with class.”
The Melody Four Quartet used an eclectic mix of influences in their tightly-woven harmonies to create an elegant sound consisting of less showmanship than many of the flashy quartets of the 1950s. Each member — Glenn Jorian, Clair Hess, Ray Felten and Bill Pearce — was an incredible singer apart from the group, and together they created a unique sound that was as sophisticated as it was musically solid.
The group got its start when WMBI was looking for a standby quartet, in case they needed to fill airtime. Clair and Glenn were part of that standby quartet with two other gentlemen. One day their first on-air opportunity came, and 10 seconds before they went live the producer asked, “Does this quartet have a name?” With the clock ticking, someone called out, “We are calling them Melody Four!” And that day a quartet was born.
The baritone and bass in that original standby quartet moved to different callings and were replaced by Ray Felten and Bill Pearce. From there, Melody Four began touring and recording together, traveling across North America and Europe, and those same four members — Glenn, Clair, Ray and Bill — stayed together for 52 years. That is a rare accomplishment for any quartet!
The group’s lead singer, Glenn Jorian, was raised in a musical family and, at 16 years of age, attended Wright Junior College where he played in the band and orchestra and sang in the choirs. He later became known as the “Singing Pilot” because he served in the United States Air Force as a B-29 pilot, patrolling open waters after World War II and often entertaining his fellow pilots with gospel music. He began a long-standing relationship with Youth For Christ in 1945 when he sang at a YFC rally in Guam. His endearing, enthusiastic personality and his love for music made him an unstoppable spirit who could never get tired of making music. He was involved in countless musical endeavors in addition to Melody Four over the years, including an invitation to fill in for George Beverly Shea on the WMBI radio program “Songs in the Night.” Soon thereafter, he became the primary soloist after Mr. Shea left the program. He continued to appear on “Songs in the Night” for the next 64 years.
The group’s bass singer, Bill Pearce, was a gifted, top-tier jazz trombone player from Philadelphia who later became a well-known radio personality as the voice for the long-standing, nationally syndicated radio show “Nightsounds.” Bill was a humble, self-deprecating soul who once claimed that his three cohorts asked him to sing bass because they simply needed a warm body. Glenn set the story straight, claiming that someone with Pearce’s rich musical background and unmatched skill on the trumpet with a smooth, deep speaking voice like his simply had to be a great bass singer. He was right. Pearce had a smooth melodic voice that rounded out the group’s sound brilliantly.
Clair Hess was the first tenor for the group. He was a graduate of Moody Bible Institute where he met his wife and married her in 1946. They had three daughters. His lifetime love for music and words led him to Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1957 to work for RBC Ministries (formerly known as Radio Bible Class). In addition to singing with Melody Four, he served as the choir director at many area churches. His wife passed away in 1980 and he later remarried a musician/poet named Frances. He remained at RBC for more than 50 years and wrote an autobiography in 2003 entitled Intersections.
Ray Felten was the group’s smooth baritone singer. A graduate of Wheaton College in Ill., and an ordained minister, Ray, like Glenn, served in the Air Force as a staff sergeant though his family would tell you that he was less of a warrior and more of a soft-spoken gentle shepherd. He was truly a Renaissance man who enjoyed painting, speaking, composing and writing, and could play numerous instruments. While singing with Melody Four Quartet, he was simultaneously a member of Sixteen Singing Men. For more than three decades, Ray was the director of counseling for RBC Ministries in Grand Rapids, and continued to serve there part-time until age 85. He and his wife, Margaret, raised four children and were blessed with 11 grandchildren.
Together these fine singers decided to follow their love for gospel music and create a sound all their own. Their welltrained voices and team spirit allowed them many decades of serving together, and the gospel music world is so grateful they followed their calling!