Oscar Brown Jr. walked and talked self-determination

Oscar Brown Jr. walked and talked self-determination

There are many African artists who deserve recognition from our youth and the world. Oscar Brown, Jr. (October 10, 1926 – May 29, 2005) is one such artist.

Brown was more than an artist. OBJ––as we referred to him back in the day––was a human rights activist in addition to performing as a singer, songwriter, playwright, and poet. OBJ influenced Richard Pryor and Gil Scott-Heron.

I asked OBJ about his thoughts on Pryor lifting some of his “lyrics.” OBJ says, “I’ll probably get to steal from him…I’ll get him. Everybody gets everybody…I mean everybody borrows from everybody else.” This is a quote from the November-December 1983 issue of the Toronto based Fuse magazine.

I found a copy of OBJ’s 1960 album “Sin &Soul” in a used book store in Toronto at few days ago. While I already had a copy – it is so nice I had to buy it twice. I saw OBJ at the Adams-West Theatre (aka Kabuki Theatre), in Los Angeles as a youth. I saw and met him years later at the Tralf in Buffalo, N.Y. and conducted an extensive interview with him for Fuse magazine.

OBJ was born in Chi-Town and was named after his father Oscar Brown Sr., a successful attorney and real estate broker. OBJ called for reparations during the 1960s. His father Oscar Brown Sr. led the 49th state movement calling for self-determination for Africans inside the United States.

Sr. seriously considered the concept of self-determination. He led a group of African intellectuals to initiate the National Movement for the Establishment of a 49th State (there were only 48 states at the time). He wanted to create a state exclusively for Africans.

Sr. wanted OBJ to follow in his footsteps

OBJ’s father wanted him to follow in his footsteps. Wikipedia points out: “Brown’s father had intended for him to follow in his footsteps and become a practicing lawyer. While he did help his father at his practice, he ventured off into other careers, such as advertising and serving in the army in the mid-1950s and writing songs.

“When Mahalia Jackson recorded one of his songs, “Brown Baby,” he began to focus on a career as a songwriter. His first major contribution to a recorded work was collaboration with Max Roach, “We Insist!” which was an early record celebrating the black freedom movement in the United States.

“Columbia Records signed Brown as a solo artist, who was by now in his mid-thirties and married with five children.”

His song “Bid ‘Em In” is a powerful piece on the auction of enslaved Africans in the United States. I used to play “Bid ‘Em In” followed by Jamaican artist Burning Spear’s “Slavery Days” on CFNY-FM, a major radio station in Brampton, Ontario.

Once, an irate listener of the caucasian persuasion called from Buffalo, New York and verbally threatened me for spinning these two songs back-to-back.

OBJ was a word warrior. He was influenced by the ultimate word warrior, Richard Durham. Durham (1917-1984) was a Chicago writer, broadcaster and activist who penned Muhammad Ali’s classic autobiography, “The Greatest.”

The link between the two is beautifully-captured in Sonja D. Williams’ “Word Warrior: Richard Durham, Radio and Freedom.”

Brown pays tribute to Richard Durham  

Brown pays tribute to Durham on his website, www.oscarbrownjr.com.“Brown was drawn to writing and performing, and by 15 was a regular on writer Studs Terkel’s radio program Secret City. After skipping two grades, he entered the University of Wisconsin at 16, but finding the world of academia little to his liking, Brown returned to broadcasting, and in 1944 was tapped to host Negro Newsfront, the nation’s first black news radio broadcast.

“Dubbed “America’s first Negro newscaster,” he relinquished the gig in 1948 to run for the Illinois state legislature on the Progressive Party ticket. He did not win, and spent the remainder of the decade working on writer/producer Richard Durham’s Black Radio Days series, followed by a two-year stint in the U.S. Army.

Brown walked and talked self-determination until the day he joined the ancestors. He never shied away from his militant image. In my 1983 interview, he told me: “you see what the militant image stems from is the fact that I want to be in theatre independent of white people, no matter what you want to say, I mean you could say diddle, diddle, diddle, but if they ain’t approving it, financing it, and having the last word on it, then that’s revolutionary.”

OBJ denies Trump permission to use his music

U.S. president-elect Donald Trump caused a storm among some music giants for using their music to boost his campaign. The O’Jay’s, Neil Young and the family of Oscar Brown, Jr. have come forward.

The O’Jays sent Trump a cease and desist letter calling on him to stop using their smash hit “Love Train” in his Republican presidential nominee campaign.

The Canadian-born Neil Young, in a lengthy Facebook post, cleared the air about how he feels about Donald Trump using his songs: “YOUNG CONTINUES TO DENY TRUMP PERMISSION TO USE HIS MUSIC,” the rocker wrote, attaching a short clip of him yelling “F— you, Donald Trump” onstage.

The children of the late musical giant Oscar Brown Jr. are also irate over Trump using Brown’s “The Snake” in his campaign.

Trump read the words to OBJ’s song “The Snake” for months. Trump suggested the lyrics are a parable from which listeners can learn about the perils of immigration. The song was made popular by soul crooner Al Wilson in 1968 and was penned by OBJ in 1963. OBJ’s daughter, Africa Brown, feels her father and Trump are polar opposites.


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