Sweet Georgia Brown
Music: Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard
Lyrics: Kenneth Casey
Original Artist: Ben Bernie
Original Album: Single (1925)
Historian: Scott Bernstein
Best known as the theme song for the Harlem Globetrotters, "Sweet Georgia Brown" is a chart-topping pop song written in 1925 by Ben Bernie and Maceo Pinkard with lyrics by Kenneth Casey. Bernie and his Hotel Roosevelt Orchestra recorded the original version of the song on March 19, 1925 and it reached the top of the Billboard chart in June, where it stayed for five weeks.
Not only was "Sweet Georgia Brown" an immediate hit with listeners, the catchy standard with changes ripe for improvisation also resonated for other musicians as the song has been recorded and performed live by hundreds of bands. One of the first known covers of the tune came out late in 1925 courtesy of The California Ramblers, a band that featured future big band leaders Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey and Red Nichols. The song was also a hit in '25 for Isham Jones and His Orchestra as well as Ethel Waters.
Cover versions of "Sweet Georgia Brown" have been performed in a wide variety of styles and genres ranging from a cappella to zydeco, with the most famous version laid to wax by Brother Bones and His Shadows in 1949. Bones' instrumental version features musical bones and whistling. The Globetrotters adopted Bones' rendition as its theme song in 1952 and it remains the group's anthem to this day.
Phish's first and only known performance of "Sweet Georgia Brown" occurred on 7/7/88 at The Front in Burlington. It followed a unique version of "I Didn't Know," which was dedicated to "Gida" who had just returned from Russia. The quartet's take on "Sweet Georgia Brown" was instrumental, more in line with the Brother Bones and His Shadows' cover than Ben Bernie's original. A recording that includes some of this show exists, but does not circulate.
"Sweet Georgia Brown" Brother Bones and His Shadows