Black History Month - Oscar Brown Jr. - The Power of Jazz
Oscar Brown Jr. was born in Chicago in 1926. Brown's father was a lawyer and real estate agent and hoped Oscar would follow in his footsteps. Oscar found a different path for himself though and at fifteen years old had a role on a national radio series called 'Secret City'. Oscar would follow in his father's foot steps in other ways though as his father was the the leader of Chicago branch of the NAACP growing up.
In 1947 Oscar got a broadcasting job with Chicago's first African-American news show called 'Negro News Front' and in his own words "That sort of pivoted me, it changed me around and made me not only an actor but also an activist." Also during this time Oscar was a member of the Civil Rights Congress, a organization that openly accused the U.S. Government of genocide against black people. In his early twenties Brown went into politics and and ran for Illinois State Representative with little success and tried again running for 1st District Congressman. As he became more politically active and aware his radio show began offending more and more white people and eventually was canceled in 1953 by the white radio station owners.
Following service in the Army Brown began composing songs and performing in night clubs and continued fighting for Civil Rights through his music. Oscar says "The liberation of black people from the domination of racist whites can only be achieved by application of the necessary force. Can music provide this force? Yes, it can, due to its matchless ability to stir the human spirit." Oscar signed a record contract with Columbia and his first album "Sin and Soul" made him a national star. The album offered several songs with commentary on the struggle of African-Americans in America and his lyrical phrasing is considered the beginnings of Hip-Hop and a strong influence on Gil Scott-Heron. Brown also wrote lyrics for other artists including the lyrics on Max Roach's album 'We Insist! - Freedom Now Suite' as well as words to the famous songs "Afro Blue", "Work Song" and "Dat Dere". During this period Oscar was performing with the likes of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane.
In 1962 Brown became the host of the television show Jazz Scene USA while continuing to write and focused on writing musicals. His musical Opportunity Please Knock was a huge success about gangs in this country and it resulted in the reduction of gang violence and brought awareness to the fact that kids in gangs and inner cities need to have better opportunities to express themselves and advance themselves in order to improve the situation. After his musical he was asked to launch a talent search in Gary, Indiana and discovered five brothers we know as the Jackson Five. Oscar Brown Jr. produced more social activist themed plays in the 1960s including Joy 66, Summer in the City and Buck White. Oscar continued making albums as well with 'In a New Mood', 'Between Heaven and Hell', 'Tells It Like It Is!' and 'Mr. Oscar Goes to Washington'.
Brown continued in the 1970s and beyond writing and appearing on television shows spreading his message of racial equality and bringing awareness to the most troubling issues few would speak about openly. Some of his work from this period includes the musical drama Slave Song, the television special Oscar Brown is Back which won two Emmy awards, his play Great Nitty Gritty and hosted a thirteen week series on PBS called From Jump Street: The Story of Black Music. Oscar continued to perform and record albums two, some with his daughter and son, including his 1995 album 'Then and Now' and 'Live Every Minute' recorded a few years later. Oscar Brown Jr. never stopped fighting the evils of this world and continued to write, speak and perform until he passed in 2005.