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Richard Rabbit Brown

Richard Brown b. 1880 in New Orleans, LA, d. 1937 in New Orleans, LA, blues guitarist and composer. His music was characterized by a mixture of blues, pop songs, and original topical ballads. On May 11, 1927, he recorded six singles for Victor Records. "James Alley Blues" is included in the Anthology of American Folk Music and has been covered by Bob Dylan, among others.

Rabbit Brown was most likely born around 1880 in or near New Orleans, Louisiana. He did live in New Orleans from his youth on, and eventually moved to a rough district called the Battlefield. Here, several events inspired some of his future songs. Rabbit Brown mainly performed at nightclubs and on the street. A couple of his most popular songs were his topical ballads, "The Downfall of the Lion" and "Gyp the Blood", which were based on actual events that occurred in New Orleans. Brown died in 1937, probably in New Orleans. Five of his recordings appear on the compilation album The Greatest Songsters: Complete Works (1927-1929). In 2003 an anthology collection of rural acoustic gospel music titled Goodbye, Babylon was released, bringing to renewed public attention one of the two known recordings made by an otherwise undocumented singer named Blind Willie Harris. This piece, "Where He Leads Me I Will Follow," was recorded in New Orleans in 1929, and in describing it, the authors of the CD liner notes pointed out its "strikingly similar" resemblance to the 1927 New Orleans recordings of Richard Rabbit Brown. Since then, more discussion has ensued among early blues and gospel collectors and scholars, leading some to state without equivocation that Harris was a pseudonym of Brown's. Each listener will have to decide for him or herself the truth of the claim, as no documentation has been found to link Harris with Brown.


by John Bush
A New Orleans songster who lived in the city's roughest section and composed songs about several of its most notorious murders, Richard Rabbit Brown was born in 1880, probably in rural Louisiana. It's not known when he turned up in New Orleans, but after arriving he migrated to the portion of Jane's Alley (later home to Louis Armstrong) known as the Battlefield (even the police force often refused to enter to stop disputes). Two of his most popular songs were "The Downfall of the Lion" (concerning the shotgun murder of the police chief on Basin Street) and "Gyp the Blood" (about a New York gangster who sparked a near-riot, and the closing of Storyville as it was known, by killing a bar owner). Brown sang on streetcorners and nightclubs, and earned extra money as a singing boatman. He recorded six sides for Victor in 1927, including the story songs "Mystery of the Dunbar's Child" and "Sinking of the Titanic." Little else is known about the rest of his life, though it is known that he died in 1937. Five of his recordings were included on the Document collection The Greatest Songsters: Complete Works (1927-1929), along with tracks by Mississippi John Hurt and Hambone Willie Newbern.