Oscar Brown Jr. would scoff at the notion that he needs a publicist. But it seems a shame that the prolific songwriter and entertainer with more than 60 years in the industry is not more widely known or surrounded more by the spoils of fame.

The Chicago musician wouldn’t change a thing about his career path. During his rich life, Brown has composed more than 700 songs. He has written more than a dozen plays, hosted the first radio show that broadcasted news to blacks, won a pair of Emmy Awards and help launch the career of the Jackson 5.

A political activist, Brown even mobilized Chicago gang members into a theater troupe.

“It doesn’t hurt so much, from a personal standpoint, because I think I got what I deserved, it’s the life I cut out for myself,” Brown said in a 1996 interview.

The next career stop for Brown, 78, is his Lewiston performance Thursday for the L/A Arts Cabaret Series in the Ramada Inn ballroom.

Described by some critics as an artist “ahead of his time,” Brown has even been referred to as the father of rap for his poetry and spoken-word performances that appeared in some of his early work. Entertainment Weekly called him a “jazz vocalist extraordinare,” while a review in the New York Times reported that “Mr. Brown is an astonishingly gifted and imaginative performer who brings a comprehensive world view to the stage.”

Brown conveys a keen sense of wittiness, irony and soulful values on stage. His live repertoire includes several of his early jazz gems and covers of the greats like Charlie Parker or Thelonious Monk.

“I’m lyric driven,” Brown said in a recent interview. “It started when I was a kid. I used to write heartbroken songs when a girl would break my heart. The kids would listen to me, and that’s how I just got kinda started in that. By the time I got to college, I flunked everything but English composition. But I could write a poem.”

The lyrics he wrote for Miles Davis’ “All Blues,” Nat Adderley’s “Work Song,” and Bobby Timmons “Dat Dere” are among his best known jazz work.

Growing up in Chicago during the Depression, Brown began acting in radio plays at age 15. After high school, he served as the newscaster for the radio program “Negro Newsfront” for five years beginning in 1947.

He tried his hand in his father’s real estate business, but left that to pursue his love of writing. Brown did not have a lot of success at first. He visited a playwright he knew from his radio days to sing her some songs and read part of a play he was writing. Her husband, who worked in the music publishing business, helped get Brown signed to Columbia Records.

Brown went on to record four albums for Columbia.

His work with Chicago gangs in the mid-1960s revealed to him the vast artistic talent that existed in the black community. The mayor of Gary, Ind., hired Brown to work with his city’s kids. Brown organized a talent contest, which was won by the Jackson 5 and led to their signing with Motown.

Another of Brown’s Gary discoveries was actor Avery Brooks.

Brown rewrote the play “Big Time Buck White” into a musical, which eventually landed on Broadway with Muhammad Ali in the lead role.

As he continued his career as a writer and singer, Brown ventured into television. He hosted the 13-week PBS series “From Jump Street: The Story of Black Music.” He was a cast member on “Brewster Place” and had a recurring role on “Roc.”

Brown and his children are now working to post his entire catalog of songs – many of which have never been recorded – on the Web.

“I’m interested in the music being heard and performed,” said Brown. “The music industry didn’t pay me to do this. I did this pretty much on my own, in spite of them in a way. So now I own all my stuff, and I can do with it as I please.”


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