Some memories of Brother Bones
December 8, 2010 1:13 PM   Subscribe

Freeman Davis, better known as Brother Bones, was a whistler and player of the bones. As his story goes, he started in Montgomery, Alabama, hearing his mother whistle. He made his way to Long Beach, California, where he was a shoe-shining entertainer called Whistling Sam. Somewhere along the way, he gained popularity with the bones as Brother Bones, leading a group called Brother Bones and His Shadows, as heard here in Rosetta and Listen To The Mockingbird. Their 1948 instrumental version of the 1920s jazz standard Sweet Georgia Brown was chosen as the theme song for the Harlem Globetrotters. Brother Bones was also featured in the blackface minstrel show movie, Yes Sir, Mr. Bones. Freeman Davis died in 1970, and in 2002 he was paid tribute at the Rhythm Bones Society's Bones Fest 6, honoring the 100th anniversary of his birth.

An anecdote from the Brother Bones brief biography with limited discography include that Davis served as a consultant to Bing Crosby in Riding High, where Crosby played knives like the bones.

Additional notes:
according to this history of minstrel shows, Brother Bones is also an archetype, though Brother Bones is a portly, comedic character, instead of the musician that was the Brother Bones persona of Freeman Davis.

Whistling Records had a discography and more samples of Brother Bones music, but the site has been under construction for some years. From this previous MetaFilter post on whistling, Brother Bones had a profile there. According to one Amazon reviewer (who provides more information on Brother Bones), those songs were illegally made into a CD compilation.
posted by filthy light thief (6 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Bones were definitely an integral part of minstrel music. Carl Anderton is a talented banjoist who plays a lot of those old tunes. (You can download digital copies of many popular banjo instruction books from the mid-19th century from Tim Twiss.)

Anyway, if you dig the bones, check out Carl's YouTube channel, which has many clips featuring Kyle Pretzl on bones.
posted by usonian at 1:31 PM on December 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Bones are awesome, though I can't play 'em without endangering nearby glassware. I was lucky enough to meet (the now sadly late) Clif Ervin at Midwest Banjo camp a couple of times. Here's him with Chris Coole on banjo: Turkey in the Straw
posted by scruss at 1:52 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Wayback Machine's archive of Whistling Records' Brother Bones page has working mp3 links.
posted by gubo at 5:26 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

...a righteous post, thanks filthy light thief!
posted by madamjujujive at 5:37 PM on December 8, 2010

flt ftw as usual.
posted by benzenedream at 6:21 PM on December 8, 2010

Thanks gubo, I couldn't get into the archived pages earlier. That page mentions that Brother Bones actually played four bones in each hand, where most players only use two per hand. Sadly, I couldn't find any more videos of him in action, and the one clip only shows him with two bones per hand.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:51 AM on December 9, 2010

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