Most people are familiar with the Brother Bones version of “Sweet Georgia Brown” that’s recognized most often as the theme music for the Harlem Globetrotters. This was recorded on Tempo Records and became a hit for Brother Bones and His Shadows in 1949.
But long before Brother Bones and His Shadows, there were the California Ramblers in 1925 who had a hit with the song on the Columbia Records label.
The first recording of the song was actually on March 19, 1925 by Ben Bernie and His Hotel Roosevelt Orchestra. He and Maceo Pinkard wrote the music and Kenneth Casey came up with the lyrics.
The lyrics were inspired by a conversation between Kenneth Casey and George Thaddeus Brown who, at the time, was considered a longtime member of the State House of Representatives for the state of Georgia. When his daughter was born on August 11, 1911, the Georgia General Assembly made it clear that the baby should be named after the state. That fact is referenced in the lyric: Georgia claimed her; Georgia named her.
The song over the years has been recorded and re-recorded by all sorts of musicians and actors. In the 1980s, Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft filmed a comedy titled, “To Be or Not to Be” that poked fun at the horrific realities theatrical troupes lived through during the Nazi occupation of countries such as Poland. The 1983 remake of the 1942 movie may not have been a blockbuster, but audiences heard the characters, Frederick and Anna Bronski, sing “Sweet Georgia Brown” in Polish … an interesting experience to say the least. The song was performed on a Mel Brooks variety show as seen in this video clip.
A quick step adaptation by Belgian-born French guitarist Jean “Django” Reinhardt also proved popular. Django was an enigma in the world of music regardless of the genre. His fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand (as well as his right leg) were paralyzed due to burns he suffered in a fire that destroyed his caravan, which forced him to create a new style of jazz guitar.
There have been countless renditions of this song performed and recorded over the last ninety years. Some have stayed true to the original; others have brought innovative concepts and arrangements to the original.
What has proven the test of time is how much this song is loved by musicians and music lovers over the decades.