If the blues seems to be the only musical genre named after a color, the performer named Olive Brown represents a small part of the music's unique color wheel. Brown changed her name from Olive Jefferson and apparently not for matrimonial reasons, so an assumption can be made that she was seeking an association with a pigment in demand with interior decorators and designers. From a career perspective, Brown makes for quite a unique shade, in that she played drums as well as sang, led her own bands such as Olive Brown & Her Blues Chasers, was associated with the music scenes in three major cities in the Midwest, and was comfortable not only with blues but with jazz and even early rock & roll.
Jefferson had yet to turn Brown when, at age five, she sang at a sanctified temple in St. Louis. By then her family, including a mother who played ragtime piano, had relocated to Detroit. Her professional debut was in Motor City clubs in the early '40s, and within several years she had relocated west to the Windy City. Brown maintained an axis of gigging most of her career between Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis. Because of both being born and dying in the latter city, it is there that her name is often listed as a native talent, following Helen Brown alphabetically. Her connection with Chicago is just as strong, however, and includes the required connections with talent such as the Todd Rhodes Orchestra, Earl Bostic, Cecil Gant, Tiny Bradshaw, Gene Ammons, and even the young soul singer Jackie Wilson.
In the mid-'60s she recorded for the Spivey label, a typical mishmash organized by label maestro Victoria Spivey, which allows listeners to sample the color contrast between guest star Muddy Waters and Olive Brown, a brown-in that might be followed nicely with the album Raw Sienna by Savoy Brown. In this same period, Brown began nearly a decade living in Canada, but this was hardly an exile from music. The roster at a Colonial Tavern date recorded by the CBC in Toronto promises great things, featuring Brown as vocalist with a band including the marvelous trumpeter Buck Clayton, stalwart pianist Sir Charles Thompson, and basso profundo Tommy Potter. Like many of the radio network's live recordings, this '60s session has never been issued on disc.
A similar fate seems to have been in store for some of Brown's other great moments on tape. Her track entitled "Roll Like a Wheel" received much attention when included on a compilation entitled Don't Freeze on Me: Independent Women's Blues, but was actually never released at the time it was recorded. In the early '70s she returned to St. Louis and began performing on the major riverboat lines. In 1973 she received rave reviews for a boisterous performance at the St. Louis Ragtime Festival. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi