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.

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(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.

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