Artist and Activist Oscar Brown Jr., Dead at 78

We remember singer, poet, songwriter, playwright and social activist Oscar Brown, Jr., who died Sunday in Chicago. He was 78. Brown was signed as a Columbia Records singer in 1960. His first release, Sin and Soul, was critically hailed.

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(Soundbite of "Watermelon Man")

Mr. OSCAR BROWN Jr.: (Singing) Hey, oh, hey, oh, get your watermelon?

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Singer-songwriter, playwright, poet and social activist Oscar Brown Jr.

(Soundbite of "Watermelon Man")

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) Watermelon Man.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

He wrote this song, "Watermelon Man", and it was featured on his first album, released in 1960.

(Soundbite of "Watermelon Man")

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) Watermelon Man.

BLOCK: Oscar Brown Jr. died over the weekend at the age of 78.

(Soundbite of "Watermelon Man")

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) A wagon and a horse in the summer sun. Watermelon! Pretty little housewife, let me sell you one red, ripe watermelon.

NORRIS: Oscar Brown Jr. had a long, varied and vibrant career. He started working in radio as a teen-ager. He later appeared on television, wrote plays for Broadway and continued performing until recently.

BLOCK: He served in the Army and worked in the labor movement. In the 1950s, he joined the Communist Party and was later kicked out. According to Brown, the split was over racial issues. He said, `I was too black to be Red.' Writing music was always his passion.

(Soundbite of previous interview)

Mr. BROWN: And I started writing little verses when I was around 12, 13 years old, and I--this guy, Molliere, the French playwright, said that writing is like prostitution. It's something that you start doing first for love, then for a few friends, and finally for money. Well, that's how I got into writing. I started doing it for love, and then finally I was singing around for friends and stuff. And after a while, I was employed.

NORRIS: Oscar Brown Jr. He died at age 78 in Chicago on Sunday.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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