Oscar Brown Jr. THE MAN
(Oscar’s words from his poetry book: What It Is)
“Here’s how it is: how I became a living legend I will never know. For forty years I’ve tried to make a public spectacle of myself with a paucity of publicity. This is interesting considering where I come from.
I had a fairly uneventful upbringing in Chicago, Illinois, where I was born in 1926. I was smart enough to have been “double promoted” twice in grade school, so I was only sixteen years old when I enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in the fall of 1943, where I proceeded to flunk out of their institution and five other institutions of higher learning. However, I had discovered my unusual talent for English composition and was determined to become a creative writer.
My father was an attorney and wanted me to follow in his footsteps. However, when I worked as a radio actor in high school-making sixty-four dollars and sixty cents a week for only six hours of work at a time, when others were making forty dollars a week for forty hours of work-the urge to get involved in the arts was almost irresistible. My creative side prevailed and I wound up on record, stage, and TV instead of on a corporate payroll or in a law office. My talent began to clear paths for me.”
“An experiment is being conducted on my website OSCARBROWNJR.ORG where my original works are currently posted as share wear. As the composer of hundreds of songs, and poems as well as several musical theater pieces, plays, and essays, who is also a highly acclaimed vocal performer, my main purpose in this internet endeavor is to attract like minds. The people I enjoy most are the ones who most enjoy me. Loyal fans who dig my songs and loudly applaud my performances are those who make me happiest so, the more of them I can develop the better because I need their help in spreading my words and music to the broadest possible public.
I view this as emergency aid for a popular culture made sick by the virulent violence and vulgarity inflicted on us by the “entertainment industry.” Brutal and immoral depictions of life-for which there seems to be an endless budget-are intended to stimulate behavior, just as surely as are the commercial messages that accompany and underwrite much of this madness. Our society is being bombarded with images designed to accustom it to horror and benumb all compassion. The attention of our youth is being diverted by what evil, rich, powerful people want them to hear and see, as they become depraved.
Therefore, I am launching a creative counter-attack. Where I confront hate I will exemplify love. In the face of ugliness, I will present beauty. As an antidote to lies, I will reveal the truth. Boisterous, bellicose noises must be diminished by hip harmonies set to moving rhythms and messages. War can only be overcome by a mighty pressure for peace, of which I can only be a small part. But all that I can, I will do, largely through my songs and verses, everywhere continually by any means available now, or in the future. If money is made, very good! It can artfully be put to many creative, enriching uses. However, the accumulation of great personal financial gain has not been a primary issue in my career, therefore I feel no need to collect a cash fee for every note and syllable I compose. Financial support is only one of the rewards art ought to earn. But it becomes valuable only if the art touches hearts, captures minds, and seduces souls in great numbers (usually) and at great length.
Minds, hearts, and souls are precisely what I am after because they are what validate my artistic effort. Those that I can artistically capture I will hold in my camp and inspire to work. The work involves a revolution of the human heart in which our species comes to terms with itself and forms worldwide alliances encompassing every nation’s race and creed. The way to forge such an alliance is by making it a joyful thing to do. By creating joy art attracts. There is great joy in witnessing the artistic performance of a well-crafted tragedy on the stage or screen. There is a joy received even from reading the beautifully written description of some great sorrow. Therefore, I am not simply speaking of jolly, but also of a deeper sense of appreciation that can be poignant, as well as pleasant; great fun, or greatly profound.
By offering my works without specific charge I intend to influence others to behave similarly, conceiving ways and means to produce and popularize all forms of art as never before. Such an effort could become a healthy fad catching hold in the public mind and resulting in a positive change of the human heart. In my lifetime? Almost certainly not. Perhaps not during the lives of anyone on earth today, but the day is only postponed by delay. Maybe this is too far-fetched a concept to ever come about, but it is far worthier of trying than most programs now being advanced in this time of murderous assaults conducted by fascist-minded people. What do we have to lose?”
At a time he was staying at a hotel across the street from the J. Edgar Hoover, FBI building, in Washington, D.C., OBJ went there and purchased the more than 2000 pages making up his dossier. This would have been in the mid 1970s. Oscar comments on this period in his autobiography interview:
“. . . Generally speaking whoever took me over was not the FBI. I assume that somebody (a government agency) took me over because I have always had this general attitude about paying taxes, and working with kids like the Blackstone Rangers and trying to politicize them...and on Broadway with Muhammed Ali talking about: ‘it’s all over now mighty whitey it’s all over now.’ All of that would tend to cause the attention of somebody in the government as to what was going on. I always operated as if that were happening, ever since I was in the Army. They shut you down as they did Paul Robeson. Muhammed Ali was another person whom I personally knew that was shut down that way because of his political outlook. Freedom of speech is only relative. There’s a lot that’s said that this country is opposed to-which it actually does represent. If you’re a Black person trying to liberate Black people, FORGET IT. THERE IS NO FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Not only that, you can’t have access to money. If you do, you are definitely in danger of getting knocked off.”
Oscar’s songwriting often introduced Socio Political themes. He composed and recorded BROWN BABY, an empowering anthem wishing prosperity, peace & pride upon brown babies; and THE LONE RANGER which was physically removed from radio stations by the record label. In 1965, OBJ recorded the poignant jazz rhyme: 40 ACRES & A MULE. Decades later, on that same subject of reparations due the descendants of former African slaves, Oscar clearly illustrates his seditious view on income taxes, in his poem: AX THE TAX ON BLACKS.
“Tax collectors have a fit
About funds I won't remit
Back in '66 I quit
They say I owe quite a bit
But why send the IRS
Any money I possess
When, unless I miss my guess
I owe no one for this mess?”
“I want to fire these rounds of artistic ammunition at the whole situation. I want to awaken our kids, particularly, to an appreciation of themselves, to a pioneer spirit, to scholarship. Turn them on to inquiry as to their wits, their whereabouts-currently and in the past-and which way are we going and with whom. How do we ally? Where do our best interests lie? Who are we? You have to identify yourself. You have to have some awakening to that. At that point, then you can say well, I’m with this group, or I’m with that group. How do I know I am not with the ones who want to sell out? Because I’m with the ones who are from the Projects, so I’m over here. I’m committed to THAT. And why am I committed to THAT? Because I feel as if it’s righteous; because I feel as if it’s creative; I feel as if it’s strong; I feel as if it’s been repressed and I feel it can save the world if it gets released. I feel as if it has something positive and forceful to say to the rest of the world. If it can get itself together and escape from the corruption, the drug addicts, and the damn fools who keep it ignorant of itself, not able to speak the King's English, not interested in reading; and the ‘I don’t know and I don’t care attitude.’ Attack THAT AS THE ENEMY. And do it in a way that is liberating. There’s more fun in that than in anything I can think of.” (From Interview for Oscar’s Autobiography, circa.1976)
Using his artistic gifts not merely for the sake of amusement, but also to uplift and inform, by the 1970’s Oscar began identifying what he was creating as: Edutainment. In the 1980’s he wrote, produced and directed GREAT NITTY GRITTY, which he considered his “miracle musical.” Oscar spent the final 3 summers of his life, training and employing casts of over 30 young Chicagoans in GNG. The show proved OBJ’s declaration that: “there is Gold in the Ghetto.”
“Great Nitty Gritty is the most profound Black work of the 20th century, and its dramatic potential is even greater than most American Broadway productions.” (Chicago Tribune, ‘83)
OBJ was determined to produce artistic works and programs which have Human Improvement Potential-what he defined as truly being HIP. This was a guiding compass and cornerstone in the revolutionary philosophies of Oscar Brown, Jr.
OURS IS A H.I.P. LEGACY!