Cleo Brown

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Cleopatra Brown (December 8, 1907[1] or 1909 – April 15, 1995),[2] known as Cleo Brown, C. Patra Brown or Cleo Patra Brown, was an American blues and jazz vocalist and pianist. She was the first woman instrumentalist to receive the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship.[3]


Brown was born in Meridian, Mississippi, and sang in church as a child. In 1919 her family moved to Chicago, and she began learning piano from her brother who worked with "Pine Top" Smith. From around 1923 she worked in vaudeville, as well as taking gigs in clubs. In 1935, she replaced Fats Waller as pianist on New York radio station WABC.[3][4]

From the 1930s to the 1950s she toured the United States regularly, recording for Decca Records (among other labels) along the way and recording many humorous, ironic titles such as "Breakin' in a New Pair of Shoes", "Mama Don't Want No Peas and Rice and Coconut Oil", "When Hollywood Goes Black and Tan", and "The Stuff Is Here and It's Mellow". Her stride piano playing was often compared to Fats Waller,[4] and she is credited as an influence on Dave Brubeck, who played during the intermissions of her shows, and Marian McPartland. She played regularly at clubs in Chicago, toured widely, and recorded for both Decca and Capitol Records.[3]

Brown began to shy away from singing bawdy blues songs because of her deepening religious beliefs and, in 1953, she retired from music and became a nurse. The song "Sweet Cleo Brown" was recorded by Brubeck in tribute to her. After she retired from nursing, she was rediscovered, living in Colorado, in the 1980s after being tracked down by Marian McPartland. She returned to record again, and performed on National Public Radio.[4]

She died on April 15, 1995 in Denver, Colorado.[2]


Some of Brown's earliest recordings have been reissued by Document Records.


  1. ^ Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues - A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers. p. 113. ISBN 978-0313344237. 
  2. ^ a b Doc Rock. "The Dead Rock Stars Club 1994 - 1995". Retrieved 2014-07-12. 
  3. ^ a b c "NEA Jazz Masters: Cleo Brown". NEA. Retrieved 2017-09-06. 
  4. ^ a b c Chadbourne, Eugene. "Cleo Brown". allmusic. Retrieved 2009-12-20.