The folk world is waking up to a sad loss this Saturday morning. The word "legendary" should be reserved for a very small handful of people--people such as Oscar Brand. Oscar passed away yesterday, just shy of his 97th birthday. For many years his photo has graced the back office at Caffe Lena, and it will be back in its spot as soon as our renovation is done. RIP, Oscar, and thank you for your unflagging gracious good humor, courage and loyalty.
From Oscar's longtime friend and manager, a short summing up of a remarkable life:
Our ever-youthful troubadour Oscar, just four months short of his 97th birthday, passed away quietly this evening after a two week battle with pneumonia.
As you may know, in 1936 Oscar hitch hiked from Winnipeg, Canada to New York, bringing a wealth of Canadian folk songs with him. By 1940, Woody Guthrie was teaching him to play the guitar, and he was befriended by Josh White and Lead Belly. Within a few weeks, his contemporary Pete Seeger would soon arrive from Harvard University. His other long-time contemporary Ed McCurdy continued in radio in Canada and finally moved to the city in 1950.
With a degree from Brooklyn College in Psychology, Sergeant Oscar Brand ran the Psychological Division at the Army's recruitment Center in Brooklyn during World War II. With the war finally over, in November 1945, Oscar began his 71 year `apprenticeship' at WNYC Radio as Host of his show "Folksong Festival." This show is listed in Guinness Book of Records as the longest running entertainment show in history with one host. During the 1940s, his frequent guests included Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Josh White, Carl Sandburg, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Burl Ives, Richard Dyer Bennett, Paul Robeson, Susan Reed, John Jacob Niles, Cisco Houston, and Jean Ritchie. In 1948, The Weavers, with Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman, chose their name on his show. Oscar was most proud that Folksong Festival was the only radio show in America that hosted folk singers during the Red Scare who had been black listed. An important ingredient for his ability to avoid no censorship of his show, was that in 71 years he never took any fee or salary for hosting the show. In 1950, he too was blacklisted in Red Channels, along with Paul Robeson, Josh White and Pete Seeger, but WNYC, stood by him and let him continue his show without censorship. In the 1950s, Oscar hosted Odetta, Harry Belafonte, Ed McCurdy, Bob Gibson, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, the Kingston Trio, Leon Bibb, The Tarriers and the Limelighters, to name a few. Bob Dylan's first radio interview and performance was with Oscar on Folksong Festival, and virtually every major folksinger over the past seven decades made their first New York appearance.
While hosting Folksong Festival, Oscar also accomplished: becoming a regular performer on Kate Smith's legendary radio show; he helped found ABC Television; hosted dozens of national radio and TV shows in America and Canada; wrote several Broadway musicals and film scores; authored eight books; helped found the Newport Folk Festival; was a founding board member of Sesame Street (from where Oscar the Grouch came); co-founded (with Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mercer and Sammy Cahn) the Songwriters Hall of Fame, for which he was curator till now; produced or narrated 400 documentaries; recorded 100 albums; toured the world; and was honored with 2 Peabody Awards. Among his best known songs are "When I First Came to This Land," "Something to Sing About" (Canada's alternative national anthem), and "A Guy is a Guy," the 1952 Song of the Year, as recorded by Doris Day.
In a few months, we will have a Celebration of Oscar's Life in New York. Date, time and location TBD. ... See MoreSee Less
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Caffè Lena presents Pierce Pettis at Universal Preservation Hall
Pierce Pettis returns to the legendry Caffè Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY >not at the cafe, but a special concert at Universal Preservation Hall! Come join us!
Advance tickets will be priced at $20 for the public, $18 for our members. Advance tickets for children and students are $10.
for more information, please call 518-583-0022, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: www.caffelena.org
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/caffe.lena?fref=ts
4 hours ago