Oscar Brown Jr. Day

October 10, 1926 – May 29, 2005

A tribute to the singer and lyricist

Singer, lyricist playwright and poet Oscar Brown Jr. was born October 10, 1926 in Chicago, Illinois.

When he was 15, Brown acted on the radio in Studs Terkel’s series “Secret City.”

At 16, Brown entered the University of Wisconsin with plans of becoming a lawyer but he had other interests, including being on the radio during 1944-48 on Negro Newsfront (the United States’ first black news radio broadcast), running for the Illinois legislature in 1948 and for Congress as a Republican in 1952 (both unsuccessfully), and acting on the radio series “Destination Freedom” in 1948-50.

After serving in the Army, and working in real estate, advertising, public relations and for the civil rights movement, he decided to turn his interest in composing songs, poetry and plays into his career.

In 1960 Oscar Brown Jr. signed with the Columbia label and recorded the classic Sin And Soul album, introducing his lyrics to such former instrumentals as “Work Song,” “Afro Blue” and “Dat Dere” plus his originals “Brown Baby,” “Signifying Monkey,” “But I Was Cool,” “Rags And Old Iron” and “Hum Drum Blues.”

He collaborated with Max Roach on “The Freedom Now Suite,” composed the lyrics to “All Blues” and “Jeannine,” wrote the short-lived play “Kicks & Company,” made further recordings, hosted the legendary television series Jazz Scene USA, and performed at major jazz clubs.

Oscar Brown Jr. also produced many other shows that were outside of jazz, taught musical theater, starred in Jon Hendricks’ Evolution Of The Blues, and in 1980 hosted the PBS series From Jump Street: The Story Of Black Music.

Brown enjoyed having a renaissance in the jazz world during the 15 years before his death in 2005 at age 78.

This film clip has Oscar Brown, Jr. singing the title song from his play “Mr. Kicks” on the Tommy Ambrose Show of April 23, 1962.

-Scott Yanow