The Original “Sweet Georgia Brown”

sweet georgia brown songbookOn August 6, 1911, Dr. George Thaddeus Brown of the Georgia House of Representatives and his wife Avis welcomed a baby girl.

The Georgia General Assembly promptly passed a resolution stating that the baby would be named Georgia after the state.

They then presented Avis with a certified copy of the resolution and a “magnificent silver loving cup” whose inscription noted that Georgia was “named by this body August 11th 1911.”

Georgia’s obituary in the Miami Herald noted that she was the inspiration behind the jazz standard “Sweet Georgia Brown” (1925):

According to family legend, it was her father who immortalized her when he met composer Ben Bernie in New York. A medical student at the time, George Brown told the composer about his family, including his youngest daughter with one brown eye and one green eye. Bernie whipped up lyrics to a melody by Kenneth Casey and Maceo Pinkard.

There’s no way to know if the story is true. (One part doesn’t quite work: Dr. Brown attended post-graduate medical school in New York in the 1890s, long before his daughter was born.) But the last line of the chorus does seem to refer to Dr. Brown’s daughter: “Georgia claimed her, Georgia named her, sweet Georgia Brown.”

A whistled version of “Sweet Georgia Brown” recorded by Brother Bones in 1949 became world-famous after it became the theme song of the Harlem Globetrotters in 1952. According to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), “Sweet Georgia Brown” was one of the most-performed songs of the 20th century.

Sources:

  • “First Picture of Baby Named by Georgia General Assembly.” Atlanta Constitution 24 Mar. 1912: A15E.
  • Knight, Lucian Lamar. A Standard History of Georgia and Georgians. Vol. 5. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1917.
  • Melville Carroll Brown – Obituary
  • “‘Sweet’ Georgia Brown, 90, Was the Inspiration for Song.” Miami Herald 20 Jan. 2002: 4B.
  • Zinsser, William. Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs. Jaffrey, New Hampshire: David R. Godine, 2006.

P.S. Georgia is the second baby I know of named by a state legislature.


7 thoughts on “The Original “Sweet Georgia Brown”

  1. I am Georgia Brown’s niece, my father was her brother!!Thank you for putting the story on line, nobody wants to believe me. The Atlanta Journal Constitution has the story with pictures!! She was born on Aug 6 1911. She led a wonderful life and left an incredible legacy of stories to her family.

  2. Cathy, I am so thrilled to see this! I loved your Aunt Georgia so very much? She was such a lady! Ashley performed a charleston routine for her talent show in 3rd grade and gave the history as to why her great grandmother was named “Sweet Georgia Brown”! She then opened h her act with blowing a kiss and saying “GG…this one’s for you! I have the video tucked in a storage bin! I will find it and get you a copy, and who knows, maybe it could be added to Fb! Thanks for sharing this!!!!

  3. Proof of Dr George Thadeus Brown’s whereabouts in 1925 can be found in the 1925 NY State Census in Manhattan.

    New York, State Census,1 June 1925
    Name George T Brown
    Birth Date abt 1880
    Birth Place United States
    Age 45
    Gender Male
    Residence Place New York, New York
    Relationship Head
    Color or Race White
    Assembly District 03
    House Number 342
    Line Number 22
    Page number 14
    Household Members
    Name Age
    George T Brown 45
    Avis C Brown 35
    Georgie Brown 13 (* Georgia Brown )
    Melvin M Brown 07

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