Brother Bones

R&B Vocals, Bones, Whistling Harlem Globe Trotters Theme

Born: Oct. 4, 1902  Birmingham, AL

Died: 1974

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame

Brother Bones (October 4, 1902 – June 14, 1974[1]) was an American whistling and bone playing from Montgomery, Alabama.[1] Born Freeman Davis, his late 1940s recording of the 1925 standard "Sweet Georgia Brown," became internationally famous after being adopted as the theme song of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team in 1952. Despite the success of this record, Brother Bones himself remained relatively unknown.

Another of his recordings, "Black Eyed Susan Brown", was sampled in the De La Soul song, "Pease Porridge," on their 1991 album, De La Soul is Dead.

"Sweet Georgia Brown" was used in the Vauxhall Meriva television advertisement in the UK.

He died in June 1974, in Long Beach, California, at the age of 71.[1]


1^ a b c - accessed January 2010


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

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


BROTHER BONES & HIS SHADOWS Acrobat ACMCD 4081 Globetrottin' With Bones ● CD $13.98 $10.98

17 tracks, recommended

The first ever CD release devoted to this unique performer, Freeman Davis aka Brother Bones - one of the few artists to make commercial recordings featuring his bones playing. His 1949 recording of Sweet Georgia Brown featured him whistling the old standard, accompanying himself on bones, joined by clarinetist Joe Darensbourg and an unknown organist. It became a top 10 pop and R&B hit and in 1952 was adopted by The Harlem Globetrotters basketball as their theme song and at the beginning of each game would enter the auditorium whistling along with Bones' meaning that in spite of its obscurity has been heard by millions of people worldwide. Most of his recordings are pretty much in the same vein, sometimes with a larger backing group. Tunes include Red Wing/ China Town/ Jada/ Rosetta/ Five Foot Two Eyes Of Blues/ Listen To The Mockingbird/ Poor Butterfly/ Lou-Easy-An-I-A, etc. Sound is excellent and booklet has information on the history of bones playing and brief biographical notes on Davis. (FS)







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