Harvey Brooks: First African American to Write a Complete Hollywood Movie Score

This post is one of a series honoring Black History Month.

A brief-shout for African American jazz/ pop composer Harvey Oliver Brooks (1899-1968). Philly-born piano man Brooks started his career accompanying Mamie Smith on the black vaudeville circuits and on record throughout the early ’20s. From 1923 through 1930 he was affiliated with Paul Howard, playing in house bands at the Quality Cafe in Los Angeles. This led to work as music director for Les Hite’s Orchestra, which was a springboard for composing for movies.

In 1933, Brooks made history by composing all of the songs for the Mae West film I’m No Angel. Other Hollywood credits followed: he wrote music for the race films Dark Manhattan (1937) and The Duke is Tops (1938), and individual songs for Redhead (1941), Let’s Scuffle (1942), and The Gentleman from Texas (1946). Brooks played live with a variety of bands through the 50s, and he joined a Dixieland outfit The Young Men of New Orleans in 1961, with whom he played out the remainder of his days.

To learn more about the history of vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous