Oscar Brown, Jr. Biography

10 October 1926, Chicago, Illinois, US, d. 29 May 2005, Chicago, Illinois, USA. A witty singer and songwriter operating on the borders of soul and jazz, Brown also worked extensively as a playwright and civil rights activist. The son of a lawyer, Brown acted in a radio soap opera as a child and did a variety of jobs (copywriter, publicist, realtor) before serving in the US Army in 1954-56. Afterwards, he turned to professional songwriting and performing. The first of his compositions to be recorded was ‘Brown Baby’ by Mahalia Jackson. In 1961, his stage musical, Kicks And Company, was performed in Chicago, containing numerous songs that he later used in his stage act. Brown made his first album (Sin & Soul) for CBS Records in 1960. It included some of his most well-known pieces, such as ‘Signifyin’ Monkey’, and versions of Bobby Timmons’ soul jazz tune, ‘Dat Dere’, and Herbie Hancock’s ‘Watermelon Man’, to which Brown set lyrics. Later records contained such originals as ‘Forbidden Fruit’ (also recorded by Nina Simone) and ‘The Snake’, two hipster’s versions of the biblical story of Adam and Eve. Brown’s most popular setting of lyrics to a jazz instrumental was ‘Work Song’, composed by Nat Adderley and covered by Georgie Fame in Britain, where Brown’s slick lyrics had a minor vogue among the more jazz-inspired R&B groups, and both the Mark Leeman Five and the Nashville Teens issued ‘Forbidden Fruit’ as a single in 1966. Brown’s 1972 recording Movin’ On was made for Atlantic Records and included Bernard Purdie, Richard Tee and Cissy Houston among the backing musicians.

Following two more albums for Atlantic, Brown took a twenty-year hiatus from the studio. He concentrated on charity work and writing for the stage, including two productions aimed at urban youth, Great Nitty Gritty and Opportunity, Please Knock. In the late 80s, Brown began appearing at nightspots with his son, Oscar Brown III (d. 12 August 1996, Chicago, Illinois, USA), and daughter Maggie. He returned to recording in the mid-90s with Then & Now, which included reworkings of material from his first two albums. Brown continued working on a regular basis up until his death in May 2005.

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