By: Stuart Chilton
He only lived 32 years. However, during his lifetime, he changed the tempo of Country Western music.
His name? Milton Brown, and he is known as the “The Original Father of Western Swing.”
Brown was born just outside Stephenville on Sept. 7, 1903, and lived his first 15 years in Erath County. When he was 15-years-old, his family moved to Fort Worth. He graduated from Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth.
His life was cut short when he died on April 18, 1936. He had suffered injuries five days earlier in a tragic automobile accident between Fort Worth and Jacksboro. Brown is buried in the Smith Springs Cemetery in his native Erath County, northeast of Stephenville.
Following his high school graduation, Brown went to work as a cigar salesman. When the Great Depression took hold in the late 1920s, he lost his job.
His musical career began in 1930 upon a chance meeting with Bob Wills at a dance hall in Fort Worth. Wills was playing a fiddle with a local group. They were playing the “St. Louis Blues,” and Brown joined in with his voice. Wills was impressed with Brown’s singing and the musical ability of his brother, Derwood, who played the fiddle. His other brother, Roy Lee, played the guitar.
Brad Thompson, 92, an Erath County native and a long-time Stephenville businessman, vividly remembers Milton Brown and his band, the Musical Brownies.
Before the Musical Brownies came into being, Brown and the Wills’ Fiddle Band played medicine shows. They soon obtained a radio show on a Fort Worth station – WBAP. The show was sponsored by the Aladdin Lamp Company.
Upon the company’s suggestion, the band’s name was changed to the Aladdin Laddies.
In 1931, the group was employed by the Light Crust Flour Company, which was headquartered in Fort Worth and headed by W. Lee O’Daniel, who became Governor of Texas in 1938 and in 1941 was elected U.S. Senator from Texas. O’Daniel soon named the group the Light Crust Doughboys. Brown’s voice added much to the group’s popularity. O’Daniel turned down Will’s request to play dances in the Fort Worth area. Then in 1932, Brown had a disagreement with O’Daniel over his need for more money so he could support his aging parents. O’Daniel refused Brown’s request, and Brown resigned. He hit the western musical trail, forming the world’s first Western Swing band, the Musical Brownies.
Getting back to Thompson’s remembrances, the semi-retired Stephenville businessman says one of Brown’s first musical jobs was playing in Dublin at the Red Top Dance Hall. Thompson also points out, “Brown also had a show on a local Stephenville radio station. Their home base was at the Crystal Springs Dance Hall in Fort Worth. ”
It didn’t take long after departing the Light Crust Doughboys for Brown and his group to become a success. They were featured on the Fort Worth radio station WBAP and played many dances in Texas and Oklahoma. Brown and Wills remained close friends. Wills based his band, The Playboys, in Waco.
One of the biggest breaks to come Brown’s way occurred in 1935. He signed a contract with Decca Records. Under their label, he recorded 36 songs. Brown sang the lead vocal on most of these records. Two of his most popular songs were “Who’s Sorry Now?” and “Corrine, Corrina.”
In April 1936, Brown suffered a severe injury in an automobile accident between Fort Worth and Jacksboro. At first, his injuries did not appear to be life threatening; however, a broken rib punctured one of his lungs, and he soon developed pneumonia. He died five days after the accident.
Most western music critics say Western Swing music would not exist today without Milton Brown’s contribution and dedication. The final sentence on his tombstone is printed in large, all capital letters. It reads — “THE ORIGINAL FATHER OF WESTERN SWING.”
Photos from Various Sources