Farran’s mother taught piano and his father, who was born in Lebanon, was a tailor and furrier. “Because she had been the victim of prejudice, because of her marriage, she was very accepting and passed that on to all of us,” said Mr. Farran’s younger sister, Diana.
After their father died when they were 13, the boys put much of their energy into music, winning their first singing contest in 7th grade. “It was a joy growing up in the same house with my brothers,” their sister said. “Sometimes it felt like an MGM musical.”
The talented twins met the Herrick brothers (Tom and Scott Herrick from East Lansing, Michigan, and Ed and Fred Farran from Grand Rapids, Michigan) at the University of Michigan while performing in glee clubs. “When I first met Fred and Ed, it was like seeing doubles,” Tom Herrick said. “It took me three months to figure out who was who.”
Paying their own way into the University of Michigan, the Farran brothers sang in glee clubs. Ed received a degree in zoology and biology, and his brother got a degree in aeronautical engineering and mathematical engineering in 1959, and soon after helped form The Arbors, a pop vocal quartet that caught its first big break with a 1963 performance on a WBBM radio show in Chicago. The two sets of brothers began playing local shows in Michigan before moving to New York City, and then to Chicago.
A few years after moving to Chicago, Ed decided to live separately from his twin. “Brother felt the need and desire to stretch out and become an individual `I’ instead of the `we’ that we were all the time,” said Fred Farran, the older brother by eight minutes.
They recorded a single for Mercury Records which garnered little attention, but their next single, “A Symphony for Susan” (recorded for Carney Records), was reissued nationally on Columbia Records subsidiary, Date Records and hit #51 on the US chart; they followed with the singles “Just Let it Happen” and “Graduation Day” (US #59).
In the years that followed, Farran traveled extensively with The Arbors, performing in Las Vegas and abroad as the opening act for such performers as Dinah Shore and Roger Williams. They also shared the stage with such big-name stars as Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Hope and Bill Cosby. The group had their own 10-part PBS series, and performed on the Arthur Godfrey radio program and “The Ed Sullivan Show,” as well as one memorable, last-minute gig on the “Tonight” show with Johnny Carson. “They sang a cappella during a musicians strike,” said his sister, who remembers sitting in front of her family’s TV transfixed that night. “It was just the four of them, all alone on stage, and singing their hearts out.”
In 1968, they recorded the song “Valley of the Dolls” written for (but not actually used in) the movie of the same name. Despite an endorsement from the original book’s author Jacqueline Susann, the Arbors’ tune was overshadowed by Dory Previn’s title song from the movie and was not a national hit (it did manage to make the top ten at WAAM radio back in Ann Arbor). They bounced back with a 1969 version of “The Letter”, which had been a hit two years before for The Box Tops. The cover became their biggest hit, reaching #20 on the US singles chart, and they followed it with the release of an album that included their interpretations of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” The Doors’ “Touch Me,” Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “I Can’t Quit Her” (US #67), and Simon & Garfunkel’s “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her”. It was the group’s last recording for Columbia, and afterward, they began writing and playing music for commercials, and continued to do so for some thirty years thereafter.
Many will recall the catchy jingles they sang, pitching products for such industry heavyweights as the Jolly Green Giant (“Up in the valley of the Jolly Green Giant!”), Virginia Slims (“You’ve come a long way baby, to get where you got to today!”) and Schlitz Beer (“When you’re out of beer”). Singing for hundreds of commercials paid the bills over the years, said Tom Herrick, everything from McDonald’s to Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Both Farrans also became well-known for giving voice lessons, with Farran teaching everyone from opera students to punk rockers, their sister said. Students appreciated Farran’s positive attitude, something that his brother decided to carry on after his death. In his official obituary notice, Fred Farran asked people to “be nice to each other!” instead of giving flowers.