MILTON BROWN (By Jean-Marc Pezet)
Born Willie Milton Brown, 7 September 1903, Stephensonville, Texas
The real founder of Western Swing. In the very short time between Milton Brown's Musical Brownies' debut on the radio in September 1932 and his untimely death in 1936, Milton Brown laid the foundation of what would become the classic sound of Western Swing (also called Texas Swing), using twin fiddles, dixieland banjo, slapped string bass, piano, guitar and, almost never heard before, an amplified steel guitar. Musically, the vocals are more pop inclined and the majority of the material was drawn from a vast array, from Tin Pan Alley songs, trads, polkas, some Mexican/Conjunto tunes and lots of New Orleans jazz. As such, 30's Western Swing can be seen as the first popular musical style blending black and white, pop tunes, blues and jazz, to create a popular style of dance music. Born into a sharecropping family, Milton Brown was the second child of four, and the oldest of three brothers, Derwood (or Durwood), born 1915, and Roy Lee, born 1921. The Brown family moved to Forth Worth in 1918, following the sudden death of Milton's older sister Era, aged only 16. He began singing at an early age and was even known as "The Harmony Boy" in High School. After graduating in 1925, Milton went to work at the same factory as his daddy. He formed his first vocal group in 1927, performing in the Forth Worth area, at the same time singing alongside his daddy, a talended fiddler, and his brother Derwood on guitar. It was around this time that Milton met another aspiring talent in Bob Wills, along with guitarist Herman Arnspiger. The trio, soon joined by Derwood Brown, began performing and had their regular radio program. Two sides ("Nancy Jane" and "Sunbonnet Sue") were issued in February 1932 as by The Forth Worth Doughboys, making the recording debut of both Milton and Bob Wills. Later in the year, sponsorship changed to the Burrus company, maker of "Light Crust Flour". Thus they changed their name to the Light Crust Doughboys, creating one of the longest performing groups (the Light Crust Doughboys were still performing in the late 1990s!). The group enjoyed a huge success locally and were soon managed by W Lee O'Daniel (of the Burrus Mills company). Following a dispute over money (times haven't changed!), Milton and Derwood quit and start their own group, the Musical Brownies. They played their first radio program on September 19, 1932. The first line-up reads like a who's-who of Western Swing with Wanna Coffman on bass, the great Ocie Stockard on banjo, soon followed by Fred Cahloun on piano and ace fiddler Cecil Brower. The Brownies will also host well known musicians such as Bob Dunn, with one of the first amplified steel guitars, Lefty Perkins and Cliff Bruner. The Musical Brownies were an instant success all over Texas, and over the three following years, they performed almost every night at dances, at the same time hosting an everyday radio program in Forth Worth. They managed to record more than 100 ground-breaking sides for Bluebird and Decca between 1932 and 1936, encompassing every popular style of the times, but in that particular style that was so new at the time. Musical level was up to the skills of each player, and they all idolized the jazz musicians of their time such as Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines and Joe Venuti, giving to their music a tone seldom heard in "hillbilly" or "strings" records before. Success came to an end quite abruptly in April 1936 when Milton Brown was injured in a car accident, and died a few days later in hospital, aged 32. The Musical Brownies were carried on by Derwood Brown for some time, but without the success they knew when Milton was singing. Band members were leaving to join other Western Swing swing outfits, notably those of Bob Wills and Cliff Bruner.
Further reading: Cary Ginell, Milton Brown and the Founding of Western Swing. Urbana : University of Illinois Press, 1994.
Recommended Listening: (issued by Cary Ginell, visit www.originjazz.com) - Milton Brown - Western Swing Chronicles Vol 1 - Origin Jazz Library OJL 1000 - Milton Brown - The Complete Recordings Of The Father Of Western Swing, 5 CD box set - Texas Rose TXRCD1 or there's also the Proper Box Set take off on the Texas Rose original, that costs less........
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