Issue
AUGUST, SEPTEMBER, OCTOBER

2009

REMEMBERING
AL BROWN
(1929-2009)

  
Text and Photos by Larry Benicewicz

Having been a disk jockey for over fifty years, I can attest to one verity in the business of getting people on their feet (even the shrinking wallflowers) and onto to parquet----play a line dance.
And in the enormous canon of platter spinning, there are simply no numbers as enduring; be they the “Hokey Pokey” or the “Stroll” of the 50s, the “Locomotion” of the 60s, or latter day, cross generational crowd pleasers such as Marcia Griffiths’ Caribbean flavored “Electric Boogie,” Buster Poindexter’s (David Johansen) salsa laced “Hot Hot Hot,” BLACKstreet’s funky “Booti Call,” or Mr. C The Slide Man’s hip hop imbued “Cha Cha Slide” to start the party rolling.
No less of a cultural phenomenon in this genre was “The Madison,” which in 1960 was the “Macarena” of its era. And first to thrust this dance craze--which with its elaborate footwork became paradigm for its many descendants -- into the national consciousness was Baltimorean
AL BROWN, who died of liver failure March 19 at Northwest Hospital Center. He was 79.








The Madison Time Sheet Music



Amy # 804, The Madison 45 RPM


Amy Album Cover

Alfonso “Al” Brown was born in Fairmont, WV, on May 22, 1929. And seemingly as soon as he could walk was entrusted to carrying on the musical legacy of his father, Alfonso, Sr., a saxophonist of note in the region who in the late 20s was a member of the horn sections of two other stellar West Virginia born big band leaders, tenor Leon “Chu” Berry of Wheeling (1910-1941) and alto, soprano, and baritone Don Redman of Piedmont (1900-1964). Berry, always one of the top rated saxophonists in the music polls until his untimely death in a car accident and the classically trained composer and arranger Redman would leave a profound impression on the elder Brown and he expected as much perfection in his three sons as his two mentors required of him. “With my father, music always came first. And he was very strict and a stern taskmaster. Al [tenor] was the oldest and he was supposed to teach us. Normally, Al would be dutifully practicing at home but if we instead [Charles on alto and trumpet and Donald on trumpet] went fishing or swimming, we could expect a good whipping from our old man when we got home,” said Charles Brown. By the early 40s, the boys, Al age twelve, Donald age ten, and Charles age eight, inherited their father’s band, the (pianist) Virginia Davis Swingsters, whose repertoire encompassed pop, polkas, and even C&W music and were already executing late night gigs at American Legion posts and Elks lodges in the vicinity or at another familiar haunt, the Silver Leaf Inn in Shinnston, WV, just outside of Fairmont. “We had to have been the youngest musicians in the state ever to possess a union card, especially me. I had to get special permission,” added Charles. And throughout the decade of the 40s, the Swingsters, a band very much in demand, remained intact.

In the early 50s during the height of the Korean War, all three brothers volunteered for the Armed Forces; Al and Charles enlisted in the Navy and Donald chose the Air Force. Because of a prank by his brother, Donald, which broke his collarbone (it was never set properly), Al was granted an early medical discharge by the U.S. government. And while his two younger brothers served out their respective four year hitches, he formed an R&B band, Four Jacks & a Joker, which became a big draw in the northern West Virginia and western Pennsylvania territories, particularly Pittsburgh. By the time Donald and Charles fulfilled their military obligations in 1954, Alfonso Sr., a former coal miner, had long since migrated to Baltimore in search of more lucrative as well as less dangerous employment opportunities and soon found a job working as a crane operator at Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrows Point plant. He eventually settled in east Baltimore at 1213 N. Patterson Park Avenue. “We started practicing or rehearsing here a couple of times a week and our father hadn’t changed a bit. If you hit a sour note or weren’t prepared to properly play a passage, look out,” said Charles with a laugh.

As soon as the whole family was reunited in Charm City, Al, now holding a day job as a Baltimore Transit streetcar motorman, sought to form a band, ultimately christening his new project, the Tunetoppers. Among the charter members of this ensemble which eventually grew to nine or more pieces were the three horn players, Andrew Walker on bass, Nee Grafton Martin on guitar, and Orney Pate on drums. “Our first long standing gig was in east Baltimore at the Clover Club at Fayette and Wolfe Sts. And not only did we pack them in but just across the road was the Club Ambassador which nightly presented the equally popular Jolly Jax,” said Charles. The Jolly Jax from Turners Station in Baltimore County, which included brothers Herman and Carroll, would for several years be the main competitors in the city to the Tunetoppers and, in fact, would often share the same bill. During that time frame of 1957, the Jolly Jax onstage would all be wearing Mouseketeer ears after their national hit, “Mickey Mouse Rock” (Teenage #1005). Later in 1958 after a brief run at the Continental Room of Adams Cocktail Lounge in Turners Station, the Tunetoppers moved over to the west side of Baltimore for a successful stay at the Rail Inn operated by Hyman Polansky at 2630 W. North Avenue, adjacent to the campus of  Coppin State College. By the end of the decade, they were firmly ensconced on weekends at Ray Torain’s (now defunct) Club Tijuana on upper Pennsylvania Avenue at Clifton, not far from the famous (and still extant) Red Fox at Fulton Avenue and Reisterstown Road, then headquarters (1954-64) of one of Baltimore’s most renowned jazz chanteuses, Ethel Ennis. During that period, the Tijuana, catering to national acts like Shirley Scott and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, was truly one of the premier R&B venues on “The Avenue,” Baltimore’s vibrant entertainment strip which rivaled that of Harlem’s 125th St in New York and “U” Street in Washington, D.C.

It was at the club Tijuana that the Madison record was conceived; but its true origin still remains a bit murky. “We were playing one night, and this guy from the Joseph M. Zamoiski Co. [an influential Baltimore and Washington, D.C.-based R&B one stop and distributor] recounts to me how he saw this new dance step, but that it needed some music to go along with it,” said Al Brown in a 1998 interview. Another source, Buddy Young (1926-1983), a former Baltimore Colt halfback and then WEBB-AM (1360) disk jockey, claimed that organist Bill Doggett of “Honky Tonk” fame recorded an instrumental number dedicated to a bar, the Madison, in Cleveland and that later while visiting his hometown, Chicago, Young saw teens doing choreography to it. Although Doggett did, indeed, release “The Madison” (King, #5204) in 1959, he utilized his signature, breezy, laid back beat similar to his “Honky Tonk” that didn’t seem compatible to either the more emphatic, syncopated rhythms of the initial dance record of Al’s or any subsequent follow-ups. But there was definitely a Cleveland connection to the Madison (aside from the “Cleveland box” sequence) in that Charles recalled that two heralded Baltimore Colt linemen of that period, Sherman Plunkett and Eugene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb, after having played a football game in that city, described seeing there just such a new, innovative dance routine.

Anyway, Al Brown almost on the spot composed a tune, added some lyrics, and engaged Cookie Brown (no relation) to do the vocal chores. Hastily recorded (with renowned area horn man, Mickey Fields, on piano) at a studio at the Alameda and Cold Spring Lane,  the finished product was proffered (probably through a Zamoiski intervention) to fledgling label, Amy, a division of Simon & Shuster, Inc., run by Arthur Shimkin at 630 Fifth Ave. in New York. “The Madison” (Amy, #804) was only the company’s fifth release (April 4, 1960) and it would go on to be one of its greatest triumphs; so much so, that, as a result, Al Brown and members of his band would be invited to the Big Apple to complete an album’s worth of material, The Tunetoppers at The Madison Dance Party, A-1, Amy’s first LP. And over a two-year period, the logo released three more singles (as well as an EP) from these New York sessions---“Sweet Little Love” (#806), “Mention Me” (#811), and “Shimmy Swing” (#829). Although all these latter disks were fine R&B examples of that period, none would have nearly the impact of the of the novelty dance number.


Diagram of dance steps to Madison
As Al Brown’s “Madison” took off, other record companies, like the mighty Columbia, were standing up and taking notice. As far as the instrumental track was concerned, Columbia couldn’t have picked a better cast of characters with which to counter Brown’s superb effort—New York’s Blue Note house band, the Ray Bryant Combo, which was fronted by the celebrated Philadelphia born (1931-) jazz pianist along with Harry “Sweets” Edison on trumpet, Buddy Tate on tenor, and Urbie Green on trombone. Ironically it was another WEBB disk jockey and local emcee, Eddie Morrison, who was tapped to do the calls, possibly through the intercession of Buddy Young, his colleague at the station, or through Columbia’s Baltimore-based promotion manager, Victor “Chuck” Gregory. Morrison himself leaked the news of his involvement in this venture over the airwaves a few days after Brown’s record “broke.” Nonetheless, Gregory, with all the resources of a major label behind him, was given practically a carte blanche to energetically market this new rendition—which included recruiting two nimble teenagers from the Buddy Deane Show, Joan Darby and Jonas “Joe” Cash, to go on a tour of the teen shows of the East Coast (including that of D.C.’s Milt Grant) and Mid-West (with stops in Cleveland and Chicago) In addition, Gregory  filmed a short movie, starring the agile young hoofers, which he issued to key television stations to broadcast in advance of their arrival. If that weren’t enough advertisement for this follow-up platter, the picture sleeve of Bryant’s 45 rpm “The Madison Time” (Columbia, #4-41628) contained an insert which folded out to reveal the proper foot positioning of each segment of the dance (a la the Arthur Murray method), each of a topical nature---the Basketball with the Wilt Chamberlain hook, The Jackie Gleason, The Birdland, and The Rifleman (TV series), just to name a few of the variations.
Brown’s version (April 4, 1960) and that of Bryant, released a mere ten days later, were soon racking up sales nationwide; so much so, that everybody was now jumping on the bandwagon, trying to get a piece of the action. Some notable wannabes during this frenzy included other Columbia artists, Billy Dawn (Smith) with his “The Madison’s Back in Town” (Columbia, # 4-42605) and local disk jockey (WWIN-AM, 1400) and producer, Jack Gale, who responded with a satirical parody, “The Sloppy Madison” (Columbia, #4-41665). But not only were there a plethora of pop examples of “The Madison,” like Dicky Doo (Gerry Granahan) & the Don’ts’ LP, The Madison and Other Dances (United Artists, UA 6094), but also other R&B representatives with D.D. (Foots) Ford’s “D.D.’s Madison” (Potomac, #902) and Buster Brown’s “The Madison Shuffle” (Fire, #1020). And even bluesman Elmore James entered the fray with his “Madison Blues,” although it was nixed as a single release by Leonard Chess.
Finally, Washington, D.C., blues session drummer, TNT Tribble, chimed in with his own interpretation, "Madison Beat" (East-West #125). 

In short, the Madison was an overnight sensation, especially with the black populace, prompting venerable staff reporter of The Baltimore Sun, John Goodspeed, to write a piece for the daily on May 8, 1960, wherein he relates how this “happening” so intensely affected the general public. “First teenagers and younger children began dancing the Madison in the aisles of a record store [General Radio] in the 500 block of North Gay Street,” wrote Goodspeed. And from there, the festivities moved outside. “Then they danced it on the sidewalk in front of the store, inventing new steps by the score,” he added. Recording another incident, Goodspeed goes on to note that police were summoned to the 1800 block of Rosedale St. in order to break up a crowd of 2000 or so assembled for a Madison dance contest sponsored by a radio station, undoubtedly WEBB-AM with its studio at Clifton and Dennison Sts in Walbrook Junction just a few blocks away.


Single from movie Hairspray
To further fuel these flames, the Madison was heavily plugged over WJZ-TV’s Buddy Deane Show (1957-64), which aired six days a week from Monday to Saturday from 3-5 pm.  Deane modeled his show after Dick Clark’s then Philadelphia-based American Bandstand program. In its heyday, about the same time frame as the Madison’s appearance, Deane’s was the highest rated local TV show in the nation; so much so, that the rival American Bandstand was not even broadcast in the area.
“I’d mostly be demonstrating the steps of Ray Bryant’s version to both the studio audience and to those at home, but I’d occasionally perform to Al Brown’s as well. But I found it [the latter] more difficult to follow because of the rhythm,” said the aforementioned Joe Cash, a veteran of the Deane Show, who began his tenure there as a teen assistant, then moved on to the enviable committee, and finally to the board of directors. Though the dance was equally embraced by both black and white viewers, the show during that era was still segregated (at least according to Joe) with the black dancers being accorded a designated day of the week.
This differs from Charles Brown’s remembrance of the audience’s racial composition (mixed) when the Tunetoppers accepted an invitation to perform live there. Nonetheless, the theme of integrating the wildly popular Buddy Deane Show (as the Corny Collins Show) is humorously explored in the 1988 cinematic release, Hairspray, by Baltimore’s bad boy, homegrown director, John Waters. Ironically, Waters, an inveterate Charm City booster, elected to use Ray Bryant’s rendition of the Madison as the centerpiece dance of his film rather than that of Al Brown, who had by then adopted Baltimore as his own. Of course, when Hairspray with the same story line eventually went to Broadway, the revived dance played a similar, significant role.

Royal Theatre (1948) Baltimore
Photocopyright Maryland State Archives

Strangely enough, in the Baltimore-Washington region, Ray Bryant’s “Madison” (perhaps on the strength of Eddie Morrison’s charisma and outsize personality) bested that of Al Brown and in fact sold 10,000 copies the first week. However, in virtually any other market of the country, Brown reigned supreme; his interpretation peaking at #23 on the Billboard Top One Hundred (and #5 Cash Box, another trade journal) with Bryant’s coming in at #30. But both records demonstrated amazing staying power. After a couple of months Brown’s “Madison” was still on the Billboard Top One Hundred at #79; whereas Bryant’s trailed at #87.

It was only after these hits created such a splash did individuals come forward to claim that they had “invented” the dance. In an article, “Madison Dance Craze Started Here in Columbus Town,” published in The Ohio Sentinel on June 18, 1960, the reporter, Julius Lee, speaks of a local, William “Bubbles” Holloway, a mentor at the black LVA social club there, who professed to have been the first to set the basic form for the dance as early as 1957. Evidently Holloway visited New York and after a night at Birdland, innocently inquired of a friend how to get to Madison Avenue. His buddy’s directions stuck in his head—“Take it to the left, young man, take it to the left.” According to Lee, this remark laid the foundation for the Madison dance which commences with the left foot. Back at the LVA club, Holloway was said to have added a few more twists to an already popular Birdland dance, and this hybrid became a   rudimentary Madison. And so much a of a sensation did this new dance make in Columbus that Holloway and his selected troupe were contracted to go on tour in August of 1959 with stops in Atlantic City’s Club Harlem and Bubb’s Grill in Cleveland. It was thereafter that the dance was “discovered.” Lee also writes that Count Basie, after a gig at the LVA club, incorporated the Madison into his regular stage show, which may have explained how the dance received press notices as far away as London.


Sarah Vaughan at Carr's Beach 50's
Photocopyright Peale Museum




Interior Club Casino (1948)
Photocopyright Maryland State Archives





As was the custom in those days, an artist was expected to hit the road on a promotional tour in order to milk the sales of his smash hit for all that it was worth and Al Brown was no exception. The Tunetoppers, now represented by the General Artists booking agency run by Bob Geewald, soon embarked on a relentless schedule of perhaps 30 one-night stands, many entailing drives of up to three hundred miles per day. “Yeah, there were a bunch of stars on board that bus—the Isley Bros. [then a trio of siblings, Ronald, Rudolph, and O’Kelly], Clyde McPhatter, Chubby Checker, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins [and his notorious casket prop]. We opened for all these acts but were also expected to be the house band. After we finished, we had to play behind everyone at every show, because no one else had a backup group,” said Al in a 1998 interview.

His brother Charles could probably regale any listener within earshot of both the joys and trepidations of traveling during that era---most of the anxieties stemming from encounters with the still entrenched Jim Crow laws. “Although there was a northern ‘Chitlin’ Circuit,’--we did appear from time to time at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C., and, of course, the Royal on Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore--we mostly headed  to the Deep South where a string of dates awaited us. Our first excursion started in Brandywine, MD, and ended in Mississippi,” said Charles. On that swing, in large cities like Richmond, the women in the entourage had to find safe houses in which to stay, whereas the men were obligated to take up residence in the local WMCA, since there were no hotels that welcomed Negroes. And audiences were strictly segregated as well. Invariably, when there were two dates available in the same town, whites would be granted prime time, being entertained on Saturday night, while black venues would always be relegated to Sunday. “One night we [Chuck Berry and Nina Simone] had an engagement in Chapel Hill at the University of North Carolina. That show went well but then a group of fraternity brothers hired us to perform for them after hours. Well, they drove us to this black schoolhouse way out in the sticks. And everybody in the band thought we were going to get lynched,” said Charles, who also recalled pulling out all the stops for some “college kids” at the Clearview Club in Tennessee.

Although Baltimore remained their headquarters, the Tunetoppers in the early 60s made many more forays into the South, backing a whole host of artists who themselves were riding the crest of a new hit, be they the do whop exemplars like Little Anthony & Imperials or gospel greats like the Original Five Blind Boys of Alabama. After 50 years, it was difficult to separate the many individual gigs but Charles Brown surely recalled the personalities of their entourage. On the late Nina Simone, of whom no one on the tour was particularly fond, he was particularly harsh. “Talk about a snooty prima donna. As a headliner, she was to follow Chuck Berry onstage but, of course, she was fashionably late, forcing Chuck to play overtime. Exasperated, he called back to us. ‘When is that bitch gonna come on out?’” said Charles. Other haughty or arrogant characters on the bus were Bobby “Blue” Bland and Jimmy Jones, who was still basking in the limelight of two successive national smashes—“Good Timin’” and “Handy Man”-- and who fired his valet brother in mid-tour for not getting his shirts cleaned on time. On the other hand, there was Roy Hamilton whose steady stream of chart makers on Epic perhaps entitled him to a modicum of ego. And yet, he was just the opposite. “Talk a about a genuine human being, he was polite and humble to a fault. A class act if ever there were one,” added Charles.

But the touring ended abruptly one day in Atlanta, GA. The Tunetoppers were assigned a supporting role for R&B giant, Ray Charles (and flash in the pan, Chris Columbo), at the Gardens arena. But when the brothers went to collect the bassist, they found him drunk and uncooperative. In fact, it was an ongoing problem in that drummer also was an alcoholic.“The rhythm section was always giving me fits. Believe me, I like playing as much as sex and probably was better at the former. But I wasn’t going to put up with this shit every night. So, I had to call it quits pretty much after we got back. Looking back on this decision, I’d have to say that it’s the biggest regret in my life and my brothers and I always think of what could have been,” said Al Brown.

 “Yeah, we’d always give our father hell for not raising at least one of us as either a bass player or drummer. Things would have really been different,” said Charles, corroborating his brother’s account of the situation. Evidently, the brothers felt so strongly about this sorry state of affairs that they never again sought to record. But performing for live audiences was another matter altogether.

Locally, aside from the Royal Theatre, there was also another uniquely summertime venue considered as part of the national “Chitlin’ Circuit,” Carr’s Beach in Anne Arundel County. Located at the mouth of the Severn River off Edgewood Road on the peninsula across Back Creek from Annapolis’ Eastport district, Carr’s Beach was home of the concert series “Bandstand on the Beach,” which was hosted live over WANN-AM (one of the first stations in the U.S with a black oriented format) by legendary disk jockey, Hoppy Adams. Moreover, the site (now the Villages of Chesapeake Harbour condominiums), a blacks only, 20 acre resort and amusement park, had an open air dance pavilion which could accommodate several hundred people. Although this sprawling complex was owned by a consortium of Afro-American businessmen in Baltimore, it was overseen by the late producer (Ru-Jac records), Rufus Mitchell, who was longtime a major mover and shaker in the Baltimore music scene. “Yeah, we appeared a few times at Carr’s Beach, especially after our hit record, but we had our own favorite Sunday afternoon spot and built in fan base for years at Beachwood Park. It was run by a Reverend Smith and down the same neck of the woods [in Pasadena on the Magothy River]. What I remember most, though, is coming home and being stuck in traffic on [Governor] Ritchie Highway and wondering if we were ever going to make our Sunday night gig,” said Charles with a chuckle.

Throughout most of the 60s, the Tunetoppers became the house band of the Club Casino which still exists today in the 1500 block of Pennsylvania Avenue. Founded in 1949 by high powered black entrepreneur, William “Little Willie” Adams, it acquired the reputation of being the late night watering hole of marquee performers from the Royal Theatre, such as Count Basie, Roy Hamilton, Billie Holiday, Redd Foxx (who became a Baltimore resident), and Jackie “Moms” Mabley. “Yeah, Little Willie and his politician wife, Victorine, were big wheels in town and they sort of took Al, who had resigned from the Baltimore Transit Co., under their wing, just about giving him the keys to the joint. In fact, Al, when supervising the club one night, got shot interrupting a robbery there,” said Charles, remarking about the gradual decline of the Upton neighborhood. The final nail in the coffin for the Club Casino, as far as its viability as a major entertainment destination was concerned, were the riots and looting immediately following the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968. This tragic turn of events put an end to any of Al Brown’s aspirations of club ownership, at least on that once grand boulevard.

In the very late 60s and early 70s, Al joined forces with James E. “Biddy” Wood, a former celebrated journalist, editor, and manager of the Richmond, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., Afro American newspapers, who, during that same juncture, had gone into show business professionally. Not only did Wood excel at being an impresario but, as manager and agent, he soon attracted an A-list of artists, including Brook Benton, Gregory and Maurice Hines, Joe Tex, the Four Tops, and jazz torch singer, Damita Jo, whom he married. Soon the two were booking acts for the Golden Nugget casino in Atlantic City. “We wanted to appeal to and keep the older audience. After all, they were the ones most likely to have money. So, we brought in Lionel Hampton, Johnnie Ray, the Coasters, and the Platters,” said Al. Of course, Biddy would often offer contracts to members of his own distinguished stable, including Damita Jo.

In about 1973, Al, having gained quite a bit of experience in the entertainment arena, decided to venture out on his own, opening Al Brown’s Beef and Beer on Monument and Chester Sts in east Baltimore, an enterprise which endured about four years. And, according to native jazz chanteuse, Lady Rebecca Anderson, during its heyday, it was simply where the “in crowd” headed. “He had a lounge upstairs and downstairs. Sometimes, they were both going at the same time. And Al wasn’t afraid to book some big names, like Walter Jackson.” Besides Lady Rebecca, other locals who made regular appearances there included crooner Tiny Tim Harris, saxophonist Mickey Fields, and his sister, singer Shirley Fields.

Although retired as a musician, Al in the 70s was busy as ever. Not only was he embroiled in the day to day operation of the Beef and Beer but also he was managing two classy men’s apparel stores owned by his brother, Charles (and in which his younger brother Donald worked) -- Charlie Brown’s Pantrees, one near the club on Monument and one on Pennsylvania Avenue, the latter emerging unscathed from the aforementioned civil unrest of 1968. But as tastes shifted in music to funk and in clothing to the “Superfly,” look, Al, principled and old school, was less inclined to change with the times, even if it meant forgoing some easy money.

Headline from June 1960 in Ohio Sentinel Paper

Mural honoring R&B heroes in Baltimore at Pennsylvania + Fremont aves.
Al Brown is at bottom
Late in the decade, Al purchased the Summit Lounge (then the Summit Social Club) at Central Avenue and E. Preston St and continued to provide the finest R&B and jazz talent that Baltimore had to offer, including younger generation horn players like David Smith and Carlos Johnson and drummer Bobby Ward. “Although it was small, we really squeezed the clientele in there for a long time despite the fact that the surrounding area was shaky,” said Charles. After each show, Al, in fact, would make sure that each guest (which often included me) was personally escorted to his car by a member of the staff. In 2003 or so, Al sold his interest in the club to his brother, Charles, and Charles Jr. is now the proprietor.

Over the years, I’ve seen Al Brown evolve into a true pillar, an elder statesman, if you will, of Baltimore’s R&B community, who would unselfishly lend his support and encouragement to many musical functions throughout the city. So greatly was he admired and respected by his associates and peers, that often his presence alone would be interpreted as a stamp of approval and thus would guarantee the success of many an affair. I’ll always remember his loyalty to one particular late 90s experiment—the Tuesday night jazz/blues/R&B jam at the now sorely missed Shortstop Bar & Lounge at 1415 Washington Blvd. During virtually all of those magical evenings, Al, impeccably attired in a white seersucker suit, would arrive and be ushered to a reserved table, his place of honor, next to the bandstand, where soon he would be holding court. And whenever Al was in the house, Biddy Wood, the self appointed emcee, could always prevail upon him to get up and contribute a number. And Al knew the routine all too well, invariably selecting Percy Mayfield’s plaintive ballad, “Please Send Me Someone to Love.” After a heartfelt rendering of this R&B standard, he’d always, politely but firmly, decline to do an encore, despite the pleas from the enraptured audience. Al, with microphone in hand and with a twinkle in his eye, would be relishing the moment, soaking in the applause. And, as many times as I have witnessed this ritual, I’d now give the world just to see him do it one more time. Baltimore just won’t ever be the same without him.

------ Larry Benicewicz, Baltimore Blues Society

P.S. I’d like to thank Jacques Kelly of The Baltimore Sun for apprising me of Al Brown’s passing, of his commemoration on a mural on Pennsylvania Avenue, and of the article in The Baltimore Sun by John Goodspeed. Secondly, I’d like to acknowledge the commentary of Jonas “Joe” Cash. And, last but not least, I’d like to recognize Charles Brown and his immense contribution to the fruition of this obituary.
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