Joyce Brown, A Self-Assured Maestra

My last post for Women’s History Month. I really almost forgot about this celebration. I’ve been watching Murdoch Mysteries online and they have been shooting during the Suffrage Movement and it is amazing to me what women have had to go through just trying to live their lives to the fullest. And women are still clawing their way to reach heights their male counterparts have reached. I saw a post on Facebook about Joyce Brown, 1920-2015, pictured above, about a week ago. She was a Broadway musical conductor. I had never heard of her, even though she was the first African-American female Broadway musical conductor. The article I read was written in 2017 for ESPN. The article mentioned a statement she made about being spoken of as a musical prodigy who became Broadway’s first African-American female musical conductor of a show beginning its opening night, in 1970. Setting aside the fact that she was Black she said “I would have gotten the job anyhow because the competency is there.” She said she worked hard and was a reliable person. As this article noted there is not much more information online about Brown, as if she had been totally forgotten or not worth remembering through the years.

So you know I had to do some research. I found a little extra information in the Nassau New York Newsday newspaper from 1970 By Leo Seligsohn. It was about the Broadway play Purlie and it’s “rocking”, “swaying”, orchestra conductor, Joyce Brown. The 1970 program starred Cleavon Little and Melba Moore, with Sherman Hemsley as Gitlow. As you might know, I just finished my book on The Jeffersons where I mention that Purlie is where Norman Lear saw and snatched up Hemsley to play George Jefferson. The extra information I found had this “Purlie” ad.

AN UNCOMMONLY GOOD ORCHESTRA AND A BOUNCY CONDUCTOR, JOYCE BROWN, TO LEAD
THE FESTIVITIES. MISS BROWN RATES APPLAUSE ALONG WITH HER MUSICIANS AND SINGERS.

I am placing a piece of the article that came alongside the ad from 1970 because it celebrates Joyce Brown’s work magnificently:

“Standing in the pit In a state of perpetual motion, she is giving them all the life and spirit within her, rocking, swaying and breathing love into almost every note and syllable of the lyrics and score. Singing and dancing their hearts out there on the stage of the Broadway Theater, the cast members are
giving it back in a mutual transference of psychic energy that is something to see. The woman is Joyce Brown, musical director of “Purlie.” Just before the beginning of the second act the spotlight picks her out and she takes a small bow. At the show’s conclusion, or what should be its conclusion, she
keeps conducting and the orchestra continues playing in a rising crescendo of audience and orchestra-Joyce Brown togetherness. Theatrical? Perhaps. But there is an incandescence and a realness about Miss Brown.”

The article goes on the say that Ms. Brown was a bit put off by a note in the program that said she was making history by being the first black woman to conduct the opening of a Broadway show, because, she said, she was simply a woman trying to perform her craft the best she ever had in her life. She said that Race had never hampered her career. Which for me harkens back to what my father, Eddie Green, said about his career in the early 1900s, that if you’ve got the talent, you get respect; and that the best recipe for success is to find something you like to do and do the best you know how. Joyce Brown knew her craft, she liked what she did, she also taught other women by listening and coaching in productions like “Hair” in 1972. She knew she was good at what she did and she had fun with it. Self-assurance is what she demonstrates, still. She will not be forgotten.

Stay safe, you all, and thanks, for stopping by. If you are so inclined you may share this post, good news is always appreciated. 🙂

6 thoughts on “Joyce Brown, A Self-Assured Maestra

  1. I’m not well versed in this era of drama.

    But it’s always good to learn something new. I teach a Harlem Renaissance project where each student presents a contributor. It’s usually my favorite time of year because I just get to sit back and learn something from them for a change.

    Liked by 1 person

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