Manitoba Historical Society
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Memorable Manitobans: Oscar Brand (1920-2016)

Folk singer, songwriter, author, radio host.

Born in Winnipeg on 7 February 1920, into a Jewish family who lived on Lusted Avenue near Norquay School, they moved to Minneapolis in 1927, then to Chicago, and finally to New York City where he finished high school. He eventually graduated from Brooklyn College.

He found his calling in the world of folk music and the legacy he left is nothing short of legend. During his 70-year career he composed more than 300 songs and released close to 100 albums. Many of the songs he wrote were of patriotic nature, none of them more recognizable in this country than Something to Sing About (This Land is Ours).

Brand was the founder of the Newport Folk Festival as well as a curator of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. His radio program Folksong Festival, which began in December 1945, was broadcast each week on NPR radio’s WNYC for 71 years and holds the distinction of being the longest running radio show with the same host, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. The show introduced talents such as Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and eventually Woody’s son, Arlo, The Kingston Trio, The Weavers and Peter, Paul and Mary were also welcomed.

Although he appeared on television in the late 1950s, his TV career really took off when he became the host of Let’s Sing Out on the CTV network from 1963 to 1966. The show then moved to the CBC for the final two years of the program. The show with Brands backing helped launch the careers of the likes of Gordon Lightfoot and Joni Mitchell.

As a board member of the Children’s Television Workshop he helped create the popular children’s television program Sesame Street. Some have suggested, due to his occasional disagreements with board members, the character of Oscar the Grouch was named after him.

He was the recipient of an Emmy Award as well as the Peabody Award for Broadcast Excellence in 1982 and was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Peabody Award in 1995. It only seems appropriate that Brand has been called “The Dean of American Folk Music”.

On September 30, 2016, he succumbed to pneumonia just a week after recording his last radio program. He was survived by his wife of 46 years, four children, and nine grandchildren. He died at his home in Great Neck, New York.


This page was prepared by Jim Ingebrigtsen.

Page revised: 19 October 2022

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society. We acknowledge that the collection contains both reputable and disreputable people. All are worth remembering as a lesson to future generations.

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