RIP: Canadian Folk Legend Oscar Brand, 1920-2016

The Winnipeg-born host of CTV - and later CBC's -  Let's Sing Out from 1963 to 1968, and known as a gravelly-voice folk singer, prolific songwriter, recording artist, and host of the longest-running, single-hosted radio show in history, Brand died at this Great Neck, NY, home Friday at the age of 96.

Brand's legacy, influence and impact was tremendous. He recorded over 100 albums for labels as varied as Elektra, Folkways, Riverside and ABC-Paramount, and wrote more than 1000 songs, including the 1952 Doris Day chart-topper "A Guy Is A Guy," which was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006, and the Canadian anthem "This Land Of Ours," also known as "Something to Sing About."

He also co-wrote a couple of short-lived Broadway musicals, commercial jingles (Cheerios breakfast cereal was a popular one) and had credits on more than 300 documentaries.

As a performer, Brand was a diverse raconteur of various genres of music, delivering albums of historical, hysterical, vaudeville, outlaw, children's, drinking and ribald songs at an exhaustive pace.

As a TV host, Brand's Let's Sing Out - which ran on CTV from 1963 to 1966 and continued for another two years further on CBC, helped usher in the careers of Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs, Judy Collins, The Weavers and many others. It was also shown in Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. 

He later hosted the children's TV programs The First Look and Spirit of '76, but his greatest contribution may have been as a board member of The Children's Television Workshop, responsible for green-lighting Sesame Street. It is said that the muppet Oscar The Grouch was affectionately named after him in tribute.

An original founder of the Newport Folk Festival and a curator for the Songwriters Hall Of Fame, Brand's greatest legacy may have been his radio program Folksong Festival, which ran for 71 years on NPR radio outlet WNYC and for which he was never paid a penny. Brand, who welcomed such folk icons as Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly,  Bob Dylan, Tom Rush, Harry Chapin and countless others to the weekly radio program, reportedly did it for free so it would never face corporate interference or censorship. It began in Dec. 1945 and was faithfully taped by Brand until its final airing last week on Sep. 24. 

In 1950, Brand was one of many folksingers and songwriters targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee as allegedly having Communist connections, but unlike Pete Seeger and others, he was never blacklisted or asked to testify.  He invited both Seeger and also Burl Ives, who reportedly ratted out different singers to the Committee, to appear on Folksong Festival.

An Emmy winner, a double Peabody Award winner and also a Lifetime Achievement Award winner (awarded at the same time with Oprah Winfrey), Brand - who succumbed to  pneumonia - is survived by his wife of 46 years, Karen, with whom he had a son, Jordan; three other children, Jeannie, Eric and James, from a previous marriage and nine grandchildren.




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