SongwriterOscar Brand

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A songwriter and folk singer, Brand composed at least 300 songs and released nearly 100 albums, and also wrote books, mostly about music, and scores for films and Broadway musicals. (An early book title: How to Play the Guitar Better Than Me.) In December 1945, Brand wrote to WNYC radio in New York, N.Y., offering to present a special radio show featuring Christmas songs “most people had never heard.” The station accepted his offer, and he did so well that the station invited him back. His show, Folksong Festival, didn’t just feature the top names in the genre, he debuted their work on mainstream radio, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie, Huddie Ledbetter, Joni Mitchell, Peter, Paul & Mary, Judy Collins, the Kingston Trio, Pete Seeger, and The Weavers. And the show kept going: by 1959, the New York Times called him “one of radio’s most genial fanatics.”

Brand in a WNYC publicity photo c.1946.

Brand never retired from WNYC: he presented the show weekly until less than a week before he died. Running more than 70 years, Folksong Festival was the longest-running broadcast presented by a single host in history. (Alistair Cooke’s Letter From America on BBC comes in a distant second: it ran for one month short of 58 years.) Through it all, WNYC never paid Brand; he would have refused a salary anyway: he figured that if he wasn’t paid, the station wouldn’t be able to tell him what to, and not to, present. Brand died at his home on September 30 from pneumonia. He was 96.

From This is True for 2 October 2016