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Fork-tongued Trump shouldn’t be the one cause Oscar Brown, Jr.’s music makes headlines

The National Visionary Project has Brown’s biography, and a collection of video interviews that are effectively value watching.

Brown was the oldest of two youngsters born to Oscar Brown and Helen Clarke Browne. Brown’s father envisioned his son as following in his footsteps as a profitable South Side lawyer and actual property dealer. His son, nonetheless, had completely different aspirations. At 15, Brown acted on a daily community radio cleaning soap opera referred to as “Secret City.” When he was 21, he was a information announcer for “Negro Newsfront,” the primary every day black newscast of that point. Occasionally, he would get kicked off the air for being too controversial. In the 1950’s, Brown was drafted into the Army and started doing lots of music composing and singing throughout this time. After the Army, he labored for his father’s actual property enterprise however continued to write down music.

In 1958, Brown attended the opening of “A Raisin in the Sun” and was launched to music writer Robert Nemiroff, the husband of playwright Lorraine Hansberry. Nemiroff was impressed with Brown’s compositions and introduced him to New York to fulfill producer Al Ham of Columbia Records. Brown all the time noticed himself as a author however Ham noticed him as a singer. He signed Brown to a recording contract and his first launch was “Sin and Soul” in 1960. Brown was capable of get an engagement on the standard Village Vanguard that opened to crucial acclaim. He then started to share the invoice with different jazz greats equivalent to Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane. By 1962, he was emcee on the tv collection, “Jazz Scene USA,” a spread/discuss present that featured jazz artists.

In the late 1960’s, Brown moved to San Francisco the place he produced the musical “Big Time Buck White,” a black energy manifesto. The present made it to Broadway starring Muhammad Ali, who was on a government-imposed hiatus from boxing on the time. In 1967, he created “Opportunity, Please Knock,” a musical program that introduced collectively black city youth to showcase their creativity.  The Blackstone Rangers, a infamous Chicago gang, put aside “gangbanging” to work with Brown. By the 70’s, Brown was an artist-in-residence at Howard University, Hunter College and Malcolm X College.  In 1983, he hosted the PBS collection, “From Jumpstreet: A Story of Black Music.” In the 90s, he had a small position on the TV present “Roc.” He is the recipient of the Muntu Theater Award, the Paul Robeson Award and was inducted into the Black Writers Hall of Fame in 2002.

In 2005, the yr Brown handed on, donnie l. betts—sure, the lowercase is intentional—an actor, director, filmmaker, African American historian, and the founding father of No Credits Productions, launched a documentary on Brown that had been years within the making. This is the trailer.

A playful and charismatic performer, Brown can also be an acclaimed jazz lyricist who labored intently with Abbey Lincoln and Nina Simone and collaborated with Max Roach and Bobby Timmons on a number of the most memorable compositions of the exhausting bop period. Beyond his musical achievements, Brown additionally engaged in a parallel profession as a lifelong political activist of tireless energy and unceasing ethical stamina, and his complete life could be learn as a parable of the civil rights and Black Power eras within the United States. His lyrics pertaining to each topic from human dignity and childhood marvel to marijuana and cockroaches, Brown emerges as a sort of Black Everyman.

The full documentary is at present obtainable on-line, because of Brown’s daughters, Maggie and Africa. I used to be shocked to see it had only a few views. I’m certain y’all may help right that.

Almost two years in the past, Brown’s daughters additionally teamed up to publish an essay about their dad. 

He mixed numerous musical genres, equivalent to jazz, blues, folks, and gospel, to vogue his message of justice, and loved entertaining and educating his listeners, coining the phrase “edutainment” to explain his method and magnificence. “Edutainment”—the blueprint that he designed to rework despair into hope and promise by growing the pure abilities of his folks—is a marked distinction to the dehumanizing lyrics and violent imagery which have turn into far too prevalent at the moment. Indeed, edutainment has been tragically underutilized within the face of endemic violence flowing from inside and with out disenfranchised black communities.


Our father was dedicated to channeling his abilities in an outpouring of prose, literature, and inventive expressions for what he referred to as Human Improvement Potential (HIP), which he outlined as any concepts or actions that advance the pursuits of humanity and contain making constructive strikes in wholesome instructions.

While tremendously revered by literary contemporaries equivalent to Lorraine Hansberry and Gwendolyn Brooks, our father could also be one of many least-known Chicago writers of his period.

Without additional ado, let’s dive into his music—and the musicians who celebrated it. Afro-Cuban jazz grasp Mongo Santamaria recorded his hit “Afro Blue” in 1959, and since then it has turn into a jazz instrumental normal, recorded most notably by John Coltrane.

I’d argue that it was Oscar Brown, Jr.’s lyrics, additionally written in 1959, that lifted the tune from a regular to the chic. 

Dream of a land my soul is from
I hear a hand stroke on a drum
Shades of pleasure, cocoa hue
Rich as an evening, Afro blue

Elegant boy, stunning lady
Dancing for pleasure, delicate whirl
Shades of pleasure, cocoa hue
Rich as an evening, Afro blue

Two younger lovers are nose to nose
With undulating grace
They gently sway then slip away to some secluded place
Shades of pleasure, cocoa hue
Rich as an evening, Afro blue

Whispering bushes echo their sighs
Passionate pleas, tender replies
Shades of pleasure, cocoa hue
Rich as an evening, Afro blue

Lovers on flight, upward they glide
Burst on the top, slowly subside
Shades of pleasure, cocoa hue
Rich as an evening, Afro blue

And my slumbering fantasy
Assumes actuality
Until it appears it isn’t a dream, the 2 are you and me
Shades of pleasure, cocoa hue
Rich as an evening, Afro blue

Remember: In 1959, there have been only a few songs celebrating the great thing about our African heritage in an American world that had obfuscated African historical past, tradition, and sweetness, changing it with demeaning (and incorrect) photos of savagery and ignorance.

Jazz singer Abbey Lincoln, who was additionally deeply concerned in Black politics and activism, was the primary particular person to file Brown’s lyrics, even beating out Brown’s personal model in 1960. Here’s Lincoln’s model …

… and right here’s Brown’s, which is a duet between his voice and a drum, evoking the lyric, “I hear a hand stroke on a drum.”

Contemporary artists like Dee Dee BridgewaterDianne Reeves, Erykah Badu, and Lizz Wright have all carried out fantastic takes on the music.

Bear with me and take a look at another tackle “Afro Blue.” Esperanza Spaulding additionally knocked it out of the park on the International Jazz Day Global Concert in Istanbul again in 2013. The tempo modifications from each Mongo’s instrumental unique and Brown’s. Particularly notable is the interaction between Grammy-award profitable pianist Robert Glasper and Spalding.

Brown didn’t solely write songs about the great thing about the Black expertise; he additionally captured the essence of life within the Black group—like the decision of a avenue vendor promoting watermelon (with some sexual innuendo).

Brown additionally appeared on the ugly racial facet of our historical past. Given that we’re at present engaged in a nationwide debate about how we must always educate Black American historical past, together with the underbelly of enslavement that’s foundational to this nation, I believe each faculty curricula ought to embody Brown’s “Bid ‘Em In.”

“Bid ‘Em In” — a harrowing, percussive narrative the place Brown performs the a part of a slave auctioneer — has turn into an animated brief movie directed by Neal Sopata and produced by Ayappa Biddanda.

I used this video in a number of faculty programs I taught, and it had a profound affect on my college students, who by no means actually considered slave public sale blocks.

I additionally will always remember listening to these lyrics.

Auctioning slaves is an actual excessive artwork
Bring that younger gal, Roy. She’s good for a begin
Bid ’em in! Get ’em in!
Now here is an actual good purchase solely about 15
Her nice grandmammy was a Dahomey queen
Just take a look at her face, she certain ain’t homely
Like Sheba within the Bible, she’s black however comely
Bid ’em in!
Gonna begin her at three. Can I hear three?
Step up gents. Take a very good look see
Cause I do know you will need her as soon as you have seen her
She’s younger and ripe. Make a darn good breeder
Bid ’em in!
She’s good within the fields. She can sew and prepare dinner
Strip her down Roy, let the gents look
She’s full up entrance and ample behind
Examine her enamel if you happen to’ve acquired a thoughts
Bid ’em in! Get ’em in!

What struck me instantly once I first heard this was “make a durned good breeder.” I’ve written up to now that “I’m the product of a bicentennial of breeding farms” when speaking about my family historical past of enslavement, and the “other” U.S. slave trade.

On a a lot lighter notice, Brown dipped closely into Black American folklore, toasts, and use of parables. Dr. Henry Louis Gates explored this in his seminal textual content, The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism. Gates explores the Yoruba trickster Orisha Esu (additionally recognized in African and African diasporic religions as Elegua and Papa Legba). Brown gave us Esu as a monkey who “signifies” in music.

Another a kind of parables written, sung, and recorded by Brown in 1963 was “The Snake.”

In 1968, “The Snake” turned successful single by Al Wilson. The YouTube remark part for Wilson’s model is filled with Trump supporters. Why? Because somebody, someplace, despatched Donald Trump a duplicate of the lyrics, and he has been utilizing them to rile up his supporters at rallies—in opposition to immigrants.

Does he know who he’s citing? He should by now, as a result of for a number of years there have been articles written about it, and Brown’s daughters have tried to get him to cease. Yet Trump continues to be utilizing it, most not too long ago at a rally in February in New Hampshire, the place he identifies “The Snake” as a poem written by “Al Green.”

In early 2018, the Brown daughters have been visitors of Don Lemon once they went on CNN to speak about their efforts to get Trump to cease—and shared explanation why they don’t suppose Trump’s utilization falls below the area of “fair use.” 

Brown’s grandson has additionally spoken out on social media, going back to 2016.


I believe one of the best religious treatment for Trump’s venom is to play, learn, and take heed to extra Oscar Brown, Jr.

Raul da Gama—musician, author, poet, and editor of Jazzdagama—agrees. He wrote an apology for not celebrating Brown extra, and celebrating his legacy, in his “Ode to Oscar Brown Jr.” He describes a 2016 jazz live performance at Lincoln Center and listening to all of the names we often affiliate with that artwork type, from Louis Armstrong to Bessie Smith, and so many in between. But then … 

That night time was no completely different besides that one identify got here up that we nearly by no means keep in mind within the mêlée of at the moment’s very commercial-orientated music business and that too simply by probability. And that was the identify: Oscar Brown Jr.

Would the stage have been set for Gil Scott-Heron, who begat The Last Poets? Would Common have had a voice? Probably, however who’s prepared to wager in opposition to that? At any price there isn’t a good cause why we must always have ever not noted – certainly all however forgotten – the identify of Oscar Brown Jr. He modified righteous indignation into elegant protest. With “Driva’ Man”, “Freedom Day”, “All Africa”; “Work Song”, “Bid ‘Em In”, “Signifyin’ Monkey” “Dat Dere” and “Humdrum Blues”, “Afro-Blue”, and “When Malindy Sings”… Yes, Oscar Brown Jr. ‘made it known’ elegantly however with additionally in a brutally concrete idiom and that we’ll be hard-pressed to overlook.

But then the historical past of Jazz and of Poetry is usually learnt from books written by white writers or writers who’ve remembered little, or writers who equate freedom with the so-called freedom of largely white, western society. There can also be no effort to vary this – for if there was at the least artwork historical past books could be rewritten to incorporate some, if not all of the names talked about above. And universities wouldn’t really feel the necessity to have a separate Department of African American Studies as curriculum could be inclusive of the historical past of the entire of society.

Mr. da Gama additionally included Brown’s outstanding Def Poetry efficiency of “I Apologize” from 2003. It’s that rather more potent when you think about that Brown was born in 1926.

I too consider Oscar’s affect on a era of poets like Gil Scott Heron, Nikki Giovanni, and the Last Poets, who in flip have impressed at the moment’s younger musicians and spoken-word artists who’re singing out and utilizing their phrases to ignite the struggle in opposition to oppression.

I’ll shut with this excellent quote.

Remember to treat your vote as important to this nation’s well-being.

Saving Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court will require a tsunami of Democratic voter turnout. You can help right away by writing personalized “please vote” letters to Democratic-leaning folks in swing states who don’t have the best track record for voting. Click here to set up an account with Vote Forward, and help the program reach over 10 million of these target voters to vote.

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