Passing: Oscar Brand

Passing: Oscar Brand

A Journey into Canada/Hidden America

Oscar Brand died the other day (September 30) at the age of 96.

He was best known in the states as a prolific composer, songwiter and ambassador for folk music. His radio program ran for over 70 years. He performed in Carnegie Hall and the White House before dignitaries such as Eleanor Roosevelt. His song book included satirical tunes about the American military and he did not turn away from those Red Listed in the 1950’s when many others did. He introduced radio listeners to the likes of Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, Odetta, Theodore Bikel, Dave Van Ronk, Judy Collins, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, Emmylou Harris, Suzanne Vega, and John Denver long before they became famous.

But Oscar Brand was equally impactful in Canada.

He was born on Feb. 7, 1920, on a wheat farm near Winnipeg. Seven years later, his parents settled in Brooklyn seeking better medical care for Oscar, who was born with one leg that was two inches shorter than the other. Doctors could not resolve the problem, and Mr. Brand used a special shoe.

Though in New York, his connection Canada endured. In the 1960’s Mr. Brand hosted a TV variety show in Canada “Let’s Sing Out”, that helped catapult a young singer from Saskatchewan named Joan Anderson (later Joni Mitchell) to greater visibility.

But probably most importantly and enduring, his song about Canada, “Something to Sing About” is considered by many the best musical representation of Canada. It is so well-regarded that some consider it “A Second National Anthem”.

We remember and honour Oscar Brand for a life well-lived – one that impacted many in special ways, both in the U.S. and Canada.


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