Oscar Brand, folk singer-songwriter, broadcaster and author, died at his Great Neck home on Sept. 30. He was 96. Brand was host of WNYC’s Folksong Festival for 70 years, and was also host of New York Public Radio’s (NPR) Voices in the Wind. His show featured interviews with and songs by many of the folk music greats, including Bob Dylan; Joan Baez; Woody Guthrie; Arlo Guthrie; Joni Mitchell; Peter, Paul & Mary; Judy Collins and Pete Seeger.
Brand was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, on Feb. 7, 1920. After graduating from Brooklyn College with a BS in psychology, he joined the U.S. Army and served in World War II. He was cited for his work as section chief of a psychology unit and, later, as editor of a newspaper for psychiatric patients. After the war, in 1945, he began presenting what is now the oldest continuous radio show in history, the award-winning Folksong Festival on NPR.
His name can be found among the credits of 75 documentary films, such as Gulf’s Invisible Journey, Ford’s Highway by the Sea, Bell’s Ballad to the Fair and many others for which he has garnered Venice, Edinburgh, Golden Reel, Valley Forge, Freedoms Foundation, Scholastic and Golden Lion Awards.
He collected Peabody, Ohio State, Edison and Emmy Awards for his hundreds of television shows and was host of Procter and Gamble’s top-rated Canadian series, Let’s Sing Out for four years. He was music director of NBC-TV’s Sunday Show, Exploring, Treasure Chest and others, and was host and composer for The First Look and NBC’s syndicated Spirit of ’76. As a leading performer for children on TV, records and films, he was on the advisory panel which created Sesame Street.
He has scripted and scored ballets for Agnes DeMille and John Butler, commercials for Rival, Log Cabin, Maxwell House, Oldsmobile and more, and was responsible for songs in the films The Fox, Sybil, The Long Riders and Blue Chips. He created music for the critically acclaimed In White America as well as the score for How to Steal an Election. With Paul Nassau, he wrote the lyrics and music for the Broadway shows, A Joyful Noise with John Raitt and directed by Dore Shary, and The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N with Hal Linden and Tom Bosley, and directed by George Abbott. He also wrote and scored the Kennedy Center’s Bicentennial musical, Sing America Sing and composed the Canadian anthem, “Something to Sing About.”
Brand was the curator of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, author of seven best-selling books, recorded 90 LPs and wrote songs for Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, the Smothers Brothers and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He was on the faculty of The New School, New York University and Hofstra University. In addition to his degree from Brooklyn College, he has a laureate from Fairfield University and an honorary doctorate from the University of Winnipeg.
Read David Sear’s essay “Remembering Oscar Brand.”