Oscar Brown, Jr.

Although rooted in jazz, singer, poet, and activist Oscar Brown, Jr. defied musical categorization throughout his long and eclectic career -- a forerunner of the political consciousness that would become predominant in soul, funk, and hip-hop in the decades to follow, his efforts to exact social change spread across the arts and even into government, spurring two unsuccessful but memorable campaigns for office. Born on Chicago's South Side on October 10, 1926, Brown was the son of a successful attorney and property broker who wanted his firstborn someday to assume control of the family business; instead, Brown was drawn to writing and performing, and by 15 was a regular on writer Studs Terkel's radio program Secret City. After skipping two grades, he entered the University of Wisconsin at 16, but finding the world of academia little to his liking, Brown returned to broadcasting, and in 1944 was tapped to host Negro Newsfront, the nation's first black news radio broadcast. Dubbed "America's first Negro newscaster," he relinquished the gig in 1948 to run for the Illinois state legislature on the Progressive Party ticket -- he did not win, and spent the remainder of the decade working on writer/producer Richard Durham's Black Radio Days series, followed by a two-year stint in the U.S. Army.