Oscar Brown Jr. Used Music to Attack Racism

News & Notes recalls the life and work of influential singer, songwriter, playwright and social activist Oscar Brown Jr., who died over the weekend at age 78. Brown was known for creating art that celebrated African-American culture while at the same time attacking racism.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. OSCAR BROWN Jr.: (Singing) Breaking up big rocks on a chain gang, breaking rocks instead, in the can.

ED GORDON, host:

Today, we remember entertainer Oscar Brown Jr. The Chicago-born renaissance man voiced his passion in many forms--as a singer, songwriter, poet, social commentator, actor and playwright.

Mr. BROWN: Writing is like prostitution. It's something that you start doing first for the love, then for a few friends and finally for money. I started doing it for love, and then finally I was singing around for friends and stuff. And after a while, I was employed.

GORDON: Brown wrote and performed with some of the greatest acts in jazz. He's responsible for lyrics to several of the most popular tunes in the genre. Here's a bit of one of his most well-known and playful numbers, "Dat Dere."

(Soundbite of "Dat Dere")

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) Hey, Daddy, what dat dere? And why dat under dere? And, oh, Daddy, oh, hey, Daddy, hey look at over dere. Hey, what dey doin' dere? And where dey goin' dere? And, Daddy, can I have that big elephant over dere?

GORDON: He often boasted of having hundreds of original poems stored in his memory. Oscar Brown Jr. died over the weekend in Chicago. He was 78.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) Dream of a land my soul is from...

(Speaking) Life's made its point with subtlety. Now what'll the rebuttal be?

(Singing) Cocoa hue, rich as a night, Afro blue.

GORDON: This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: