My wife Kate took me to task about last week's Oscar Brand Song Spot post featuring his ditty Blinded by Turds. Not that she was offended by the song but that I should commemorate a significant figure in the history of music and culture by that particular item. So, to redress the balance and to get me out of the doo-dah, today’s item is about Oscar Brand.
Some facts and information about Oscar Brand (1920 – 2016) . . .
Brand was born to a Jewish family in Canada. In 1927, the family moved to Minneapolis, then to Chicago and ultimately to New York City
In his long career he played alongside such legends of folk music as Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, Josh White, Jean Ritchie, the Weavers and Pete Seeger.
He wrote various books on the folk song and folk song collections, including The Ballad Mongers: Rise of the American Folk Song, Songs Of '76: A Folksinger's History Of The Revolution and Bawdy Songs & Backroom Ballads, the latter comprising four volumes.
Brand was known for composing catchy and themed folk songs, including the Canadian patriotic song "Something to Sing About" (actual title: "This Land of Ours"), which is one of Canada's national songs.
During his career, spanning 70 years, he composed at least 300 songs and released nearly 100 albums, among them Canadian and American patriotic songs. Brand's music ran the gamut from novelty songs to serious social commentary and spanned a number of genres.
He hosted the radio show Oscar Brand's Folksong Festival on Saturdays in New York City, which ran into its 70th year, making it the longest-running radio show with the same host, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Over its run it introduced such talents to the world as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie, Huddie Ledbetter, Joni Mitchell, Peter, Paul & Mary, Judy Collins, the Kingston Trio, Pete Seeger and the Weavers. In order to make sure that his radio program could not be censored he refused to be paid by WNYC for the 70 years.
Although Brand was anti-Stalinist and was never a member of any Communist party, the House Committee on Un-American Activities referred to his show as a "pipeline of communism", because of his belief in the rights under the First Amendment of blacklisted artists to have a platform to reach the public. Accordingly, in June 1950, Brand was named in the premier issue of Red Channels as a Communist sympathiser, along with Paul Robeson, Josh White and Pete Seeger.
While Brand was not as well-known or radical an activist as some of his contemporaries, he was a long-standing supporter of civil rights. He told stories of buying food for Lead Belly when the two travelled together in segregated areas, and participated in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches.
Brand was one of the original organisers of the Newport Folk Festival which began in 1959.
In the early 1960s, Brand brought his substantial connections in the worldwide folk music community home to his native Canada with his CTV and then CBC television program Let's Sing Out. The program was staged at and broadcast from university campuses across Canada and both revived the careers of long-forgotten pioneers of the folk music movement such as Malvina Reynolds, the Womenfolk, The Weavers and others and introduced then-unknown Canadian singers such as Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot.
Brand also served during the 1960s as a board member of the Children's Television Workshop and participated in the development of Sesame Street. Because of some mild disagreements that had occurred between Brand and the board members regarding the appropriate setting for the show, it has been reputed that as a playful joke, the character of Oscar the Grouch was named after him, although there are duelling tales as to the origin of the character.
Brand was given the Peabody Award for broadcast excellence in 1982 for his broadcast The Sunday Show on National Public Radio, and was awarded the Personal Peabody Award in 1995 (shared with Oprah Winfrey).
Brand died of pneumonia on September 30, 2016, at the age of 96.
(See how well he sings without accompaniment).
Reminiscing and "Something to Sing About"
Performance at November 2-nd, 1997 - Manhattan
("Tribute to Sis Cunningham")
Oscar Brand with an unknown Bub Dylan, 1961:
Love Me, I’m a Liberal
Wreck of The Old Ninety Seven
Gee But I Wanna Go Home
The Simon Sisters with Oscar Brand plus Peter Yarrow