February gives non-African Americans an opportunity to read about our contributions, our artists, and provides a small insight into our families. This year’s Black History Month will be remembered as the month of Coretta Scott King’s funeral (Feb. 7), and it was a month when many tributes and performances were dedicated to Oscar Brown Jr., one of Chicago’s legendary performers. A movie, no doubt, will be made about Oscar Brown Jr. and his long career, highlighting his outspoken, no-nonsense, political activism. Brown passed away in May of 2005, but left us with a wealth of artistic music and two daughters (Maggie and Africa) who are carrying on his legacy.
Brown was a proud father, who wrote “Brown Baby” and “Maggie” for his son and daughter, who grew up and performed with their legendary father. Maggie and her brother, Oscar Brown III, were the children of Oscar’s second marriage to Maxine Fleming, who passed away in 1981. Jazz artist Oscar III, sadly, was killed in an auto accident in 1996. A gifted artist, “Bo,” as he was affectionately known, had just released three CDs at the time of his death.
When Maggie was born, her father’s song, “Maggie,” included the lyrics, “to bounce my baby on my knee, to see her smiling back at me, makes living sweet as it can be/Who’s Who may never know my name, and not much money can I claim, but I’m important just the same to Little Maggie.”
Maggie Brown is a native Chicagoan and made her professional singing debut at the Body Politic Theater. She attended high school with another well-known daughter Santita Jackson, eldest daughter of Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. Maggie studied music theater and voice at Columbia College. Since the early 1990s, Miss Brown has toured Chicago area schools and the national college circuit, performing. In 1997, she help the Chicago House of Blues to develop their Blues Schoolhouse student outreach program. Maggie started The Legacy Company (TLC). “I conducted research, gathering musical information and material to conduct a study of the history and evolution of African American music,” she said. “This research certainly gave me an education on what I have discovered to be a great wealth of creativity and brilliance in the contributions of African Americans to what is now a multibillion-dollar music industry. The invincible spirit of my ancestors was revealed to me. It made me very excited, and I want to turn on others to the story that will fill the human spirit with music and song.”
AWN: About what age did you realize your father was someone “special?”
Maggie: As long ago as I can remember. When I was a little girl, maybe 3 years old, I would lay in bed and dream of the shows Dad did and dream that I would be famous and on TV.
AWN: Did your father spoil you?
Maggie: Yes, in ways he did. Of course, I did not live with him during most of the year. So once I got to visit during school breaks, etc., he would pull out the stops if money permitted. He was a “let the kid play” type guy anyway. It might take a few disappointing broken promises, but eventually he would get to buy me something that no one else would have gotten for a little girl.
AWN: What are the good points of being the daughter of a legend?
Maggie: People know him and know what his contribution has been. Therefore people have a deeper appreciation for the dad I love than they would for one not so legendary. And also great is the fact that it opens doors for me to be introduced to other great contributors to our society”musicians, artists, producers and otherwise.
AWN: Are there any disadvantages of being the daughter of a legend (example: people wanting favors etc.)
Maggie: Well, people did not typically mistake me for being from a rich family. What was assumed is that we did not need any help in terms of agents, management and/or producers. We have always had a great wealth of material and music, but no real means of marketing it and getting it out to the public.
AWN: Did you feel your father was a stern disciplinarian?
Maggie: No not really. There was one spanking I can remember. I had taken my Mom’s red lipstick and drawn on the newly painted white walls in the living room. Dad spanked me with a leather slipper on my bottom. That is the only spanking I can remember. After that, Dad was not one to give whuppings. He could just “boo” us, and we would hate to have him disapprove. I mean he would literally boo like you do when the act is bad at the Apollo. That was enough to make me cry because I always wanted to have Dad’s approval, and he was so much fun that you did not want to blow it and cut the laughter. I remember a lot of laughter.
AWN: Has your father been instrumental in promoting your career?
Maggie: It is my father with whom I have had so much experience and exposure on stage. Dad and I were appearing in New York when Abbey Lincoln witnessed my performance. As a result, Ms. Abbey invited me to perform two duet recordings on her Wholly Earth CD on Verve. Dad had always been willing to put us in the show and involve us in what he’s doing. Experience is the best teacher in some cases. It is better than promotion.
AWN: How would you describe your father’s legacy?
Maggie: Oscar Brown, Jr. truly appreciated his gift. He was blessed with an enormous talent to write and compose, and he truly did all he could to make his gift appreciated. He was a man who could persevere in spite of the letdowns and undeserved doors which the music industry shut on him. See, it was not just because he was “outspoken.” Lord knows how outspoken the artists of our current times are. It had more to do with what he was outspoken about. It’s OK to say “Niggers aint shit,” and “I’m gonna pop that bitch upside her head,” but do not say “What you mean We White Man?” Do not try to wake up young black children to make them understand that they are not really the underdogs … that they are really the innovators of what is hip.” He was an artist for the people and not for money. On purpose!
AWN: What was the most important thing you learned from your father?
Maggie: One important thing is to always tell the truth. To stand up. To not be cowardly.
AWN: Did your father have a familiar quote that he used on you over the years?
Maggie: “I may not make it if I try, but I damn sure won’t if I don’t.”
AWN: Marital status, children, future goals?
Maggie: I am married to Mr. Troy Blakey. Together we have three boys, age 7, 5 and 3. Troy has a daughter 14 years old from his first marriage. We live on the South Side of Chicago with our four children in Bronzeville. I plan on traveling and making music and producing plays which my father wrote. I will continue to be involved with young people, involving them in the arts, teaching a lesson that is very important to me: Words are powerful. Thoughts are things. What we are thinking about and imagining today affects what will become tomorrow’s reality. I will use my gift to influence others to make music that projects a positive alternative to gangster rap and images of pimps and “hoes.” I’ll be so crushed if society captures my sons’ minds to think that that crap is actually cool, and that the image of what’s selling these days is the one for them to buy into because I am clear about what our legacy is. We are the creators of what makes life worth living. We need to stop following the knuckleheads who lack imagination. I will pray for strength to be strong enough to create an entertainment alternative which will catch on.
Chicago is and has been the hub of artistically talented families. We have people like Mavis Staples (Staple Singers) and Karen Jordan, TV weekend anchor on local ABC station Channel 7. Her father, Robert Jordan, is a longtime anchor on WGN – TV Channel 9. Others include motivational speaker, Donna Farrakhan Muhammad, daughter of Minister Louis Farrakhan; Linda Johnson Rice, CEO of Johnson Publishing and daughter of the late John Johnson; and Santita and Jacqueline Jackson, daughters Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. Chicago is home to these and many other well known people.
Thanks, ladies, for the memories.
• Suggested books: What It Is, poems and opinions of Oscar Brown Jr., Oyster Knife Publishing, 2005; 40 Year Spann of WVON, by Pervis Spann with Linda C. Walker, National Academy of Blues, 2003; Blues All Around Me, by B.B. King and David Ritz, Harper Collins, 1999.