Sunday, October 02, 2016

Passings: Folksinger & Radio Host Oscar Brand (1920 - 2016)

by VVN Music

Oscar Brand, the man who recorded over 100 albums of folk music and was the host of the longest running radio show with a single person, died on Friday from pneumonia at his home in Great Neck, NY at the age of 96.

Born in Winnipeg, Canada, his family moved to the United States when Oscar was seven and eventually settled in New York where he graduated from Erasmus High School. His love for music led him to teach himself banjo and guitar and, after graduation, he traveled around the country singing folk music.

Brand eventually returned to New York and attended Brooklyn College. During that time, he was often seen around Greenwich Village which already had a reputation for being a center for such folk singers as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.

Brand joined the army during World War II but, because one leg was two inches shorter than the other, he was not allowed in combat units. Instead, he utilized his psychology degree working at induction stations doing exams of prospective servicemen.

On December 10, 1945, after his discharge from the service, Brand hosted his first Folksong Festival program on WNYC radio in New York.  Oscar would serve as the programs host until just two weeks ago when he taped his final show. Over those years, Brand had virtually every important folk artist as a guest on the show including Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan in his radio debut, Joan Baez and Lead Belly up to modern artists like Suzanne Vega. At no time, did he ever accept pay for hosting the program.

In the late 40's, he regularly played music live, touring with Josh White and Lead Belly and started writing with the book How to Play the Guitar Better Than Me; however, for a brief time, everything came to a halt when his name appeared in the anti-Communist publication Red Channels. While he did lose some work during the time, he was allowed to continue hosting his radio program where he would often invite on other folk artists who had been blacklisted.

His over 100 recordings ran the full spectrum of folk music, from albums of kid songs to LPs filled with adult oriented bawdy ballads. The over 300 songs that he composed included the Canadian patriotic song Something to Sing About and the theme for the CBC television show Let's Sing Out of which he was the host. In 1954, he wrote new lyrics for a traditional song, changing it to A Guy is a Guy which went on to be a hit for Doris Day.

Oscar was involved in the civil rights movement, including the marches on Selma and Montgomery and was a member of the board of the Children's Television Workshop, helping to develop the format for Sesame Street.

Add in authoring eleven books and writing for Broadway and you have the definition of a Renaissance man.

Brand received the Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting in 1982 for his program The Sunday Show and another Peabody in 1997.

He is survived by his wife, Karen and four children.