Sweet, gentle Walter Brown – gone but not forgotten

One of the gentlest of souls I have ever had the pleasure of interviewing, singer Walter Brown, died in Cape Town on Wednesday.

Whilst Walter never achieved the great heights of some of his contemporaries of the Sixties, he nonetheless enjoyed great respect and high regard from all who knew him.

I first met Walter back in the late Sixties when I was writing entertainment stories for the now long-defunct Cape Post. I had seen him on the bill as a supporting act for a few local shows, mainly in the Elsies River area. He specialised in the slow, plaintive songs so popular at the time.

But he always aspired to more. He pitched up at the newspaper offices in District Six where I worked and introduced himself in way that has lived with me ever since.

walter brown

Walter Brown . . . a gentleman to the core.

In stuttering voice (he had a nervous stammer but it never affected his singing), he opened the conversation thus: “Ek is Walter Brown, ek gaan famous wees.” I’m Walter Brown, I’m going to be famous).Strangely, it wasn’t said as a boast, rather with a touch of humility – spoken softly and with a fair dollop of uncertainty.

All he was after was a little bit of exposure in the same way that other artists of his time were getting from me.

Quite a few of the artists of that time had had a way of selling themselves that sometimes bordered on the distasteful. Walter was different. He wanted a bigger stage but flaunting himself wasn’t his style. His inexperience in dealing with people to achieve his goals held him back. I can only imagine how long he must have rehearsed that opening line in our first meeting.

Walter typified any one of the many struggling artists on the Cape Flats in those years. One story goes that he pitched up at a stage show where he was due to perform and borrowed someone else shoes before going on stage.

He had a few highlights in his career. He was there at the beginning when the Rockets – then comprising Robbie Jansen, Georgie Carelse, Carlo Barron and Molly Barron – were formed. He accompanied them on a tour to South Africa and was a hit with the Namibians. He did a few guest spots with some German entertainers who tried to lure him to stay there.

But Walter was a homeboy, he came back to Elsies River. I hadn’t heard of Walter for decades and I believe he turned his talents to gospel.

I’ll remember Bernie Brown, and one-time Rockets guitarists Claude and Frank Brown. But I’ll also remember softly spoken, courteous Walter Brown — with great fondness. Rest In Peace Walter.

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