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Sweet Georgia Brown (1925)

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Origin and Chart Information
“...after gradually varying the melody and the words, adding new ideas more extensively in the third chorus, she moves into a beautifully blues-oriented coda.”

- Leonard Feather

Rank 16
Words and Music Ben Bernie
Ken Casey
Maceo Pinkard

As popular improvisational vehicles, many songs did not endure the transition from the loose Dixieland style of the “Roaring Twenties” to the smooth swing sound of the 1930’s. They were unceremoniously dropped from jazz musicians’ catalogs, performances and recordings, and, over time, relegated to period collections and specialty bands. There are, however, a handful of songs written in the mid-twenties or earlier that have persisted as the topmost jazz standards: WC Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” (1914) and George and Ira Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” (1924) and “Oh, Lady Be Good” (1924).

The song with more endurance than any of the aforementioned, though, is “Sweet Georgia Brown,” which has been recorded by Count Basie, Eddie Condon, Dave Brubeck, Benny Carter, Sonny Criss, Herb Ellis, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Stephane Grappelli, Coleman Hawkins, Gene Krupa, Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell, Django Reinhardt, Sonny Stitt, Art Tatum, Mel Torme, Anita O’Day, Ben Webster, and Lester Young, to name a few.

“Sweet Georgia Brown” was immediately popular. Ben Bernie and His Orchestra’s hit recording stayed on the pop charts for 13 weeks, resting in the number one slot for five weeks in a row. Also charting with the song in 1925 were Isham Jones and His Orchestra, rising to number five, and Ethel Waters, reaching number six. In 1932, a Bing Crosby recording of “Sweet Georgia Brown” (accompanied by Isham Jones and His Orchestra) reached the number two position for three weeks. A Brother Bones and His Shadows recording reached number ten in 1949 and would later gain fame and recognition as the anthem for the Harlem Globetrotters, complete with whistled chorus.


More on Ben Bernie at JazzBiographies.com

Chart information used by permission from
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954

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Georgia Brown was a devil-sent vamp in the 1940 Broadway hit Cabin in the Sky. George Balanchine choreographed the musical play with the help of Katherine Dunham, who played Georgia. Starring Ethel Waters and with a score by Vernon Duke and John La Touche, Cabin in the Sky opened on October 25,1940, at the Martin Beck Theatre and ran for 156 performances. The 1943 film adaptation of Cabin in the Sky also starred Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson with appearances by Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. But neither production featured the song “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

More information on this tune...

Henry Martin
Enjoying Jazz
Schirmer Books
Paperback: 302 pages

(The author devotes one page to the analyses of the music and lyric.)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

- Jeremy Wilson

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