Cleo Brown Biography

Cleopatra Brown, 8 December 1903, DeKalb, Mississippi, USA, d. 15 April 1995, Denver, Colorado, USA. Born into a musical household, Brown began singing in her father’s church and after the family moved to Chicago in 1919, she studied music, learning to play piano. In the 20s she worked in clubs and tent shows, and was a frequent broadcaster with her own radio show. From the early 30s she worked steadily for two decades, performing in cities across the USA, usually in clubs such as New York’s Three Deuces. Brown’s voice was tiny and twee, and opened the way for the extremes of Rose Murphy, but her records sold well, thanks mostly to her piano playing (she was an above-average boogie-woogie pianist) and to her accompanists, who included leading jazzmen of the day. In the late 40s Brown underwent a religious experience and, after an unsettled period, retired from music in 1953. She took up nursing; but when this career ended, she began performing again, this time playing religious music. In the mid-80s, thanks to the efforts of Marion McPartland, Brown was ‘rediscovered’ living in Colorado. She was persuaded to visit New York to appear on McPartland’s radio show, following which she was the subject of an article by jazz writer Whitney Balliett in the New Yorker, which was later reprinted in his book American Singers (1988).

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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