Oscar Brown Jr. (October 10, 1926 – May 29, 2005) was an American singer, songwriter, playwright, poet, civil rights activist, and actor. He ran unsuccessfully for office in both the Illinois state legislature and the U.S. Congress. Brown wrote numerous songs (only 125 have been published), 12 albums, and more than a dozen musical plays.
Born and raised on the south side of Chicago, he was named after his father Oscar Brown, Sr., a successful attorney and real estate broker. Browns first acting debut was on the radio show Secret City at the age of 15. He attended Englewood High School in Chicago, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and Lincoln University but did not obtain a degree. He also served a stint in the U.S. Army.
Browns 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 a 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.
In 1960, Brown released his first LP, Sin & Soul, recorded from June 20 to October 23, 1960. Printed on the cover of the album were personal reviews by well-known celebrities and jazz musicians of the time, including Steve Allen, Lorraine Hansberry, Nat Hentoff, Dorothy Killgallen, Max Roach and Nina Simone (Simone would later cover his Work Song and Steve Allen would later hire him for his Jazz Scene USA television program). The album is regarded as a true classic for openly tackling the experiences of African Americans with songs such as Bid Em In and Afro Blue.
Sin & Soul is also significant because Brown took