Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Buster Brown - Fannie Mae

It took Buster Brown nearly 50 years to become an overnight success. Brown was born near Cordele, Georgia in 1911, and for most of his life played his harmonica in juke joints and at house parties in south Georgia and Florida, as well as working non-musical jobs. He had one brush with immortality in 1943, when he participated in the Fort Valley Folk Festival, sponsored by Fort Valley State College, an HBCU (Historically Black College/University) in Peach County, Georgia. All the participants were recorded by the Library of Congress for their Archive of Folk Song. Brown's two recorded songs can be heard here.

The music on those 1943 recordings is lively and accomplished, but Brown remained unknown to the larger music world until after he moved to New York City sometime around 1956. There he attracted the attention of record producer Bobby Robinson, and in 1959 he made his first commercial record for Robinson's Fire label: "Fannie Mae," backed with "Lost in a Dream." Presumably to the surprise of everyone involved, Brown suddenly found that, at the age of 48, he had a hit record. "Fannie Mae" topped the R & B charts at #1, and even cracked the Top 40, rising to the #38 spot on the pop charts.

Brown's song is a simple, rocking blues number, which betrays its rural origins with a little of the vocal/harmonica "whooping" often found in the work of Southeastern blues harp players. Buster continued to record and tour, but never had another big hit. He did live long enough to see "Fannie Mae" used in the movie "American Graffiti." I hope he earned a little money for that.

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