Essential Swing for guitarists #2: Sweet Georgia Brown

Sweet Georgia Brown may be the first swing song I learned. My earliest recollection of it is watching the Harlem Globe Trotters on TV when I was a kid. It was their theme song. Anyone raised in the 60s remembers the whistling version of Sweet Georgia Brown.

Reportedly Ben Bernie came up with the concept for the song’s lyrics – although he is not the accredited lyricist – after meeting Dr. George Thaddeus Brown in New York City: Dr. Brown, a longtime member of the State House of Representatives for Georgia, told Bernie about Dr. Brown’s daughter Georgia Brown and how subsequent to the baby girl’s birth on August 11, 1911 the Georgia General Assembly had issued a declaration that she was to be named Georgia after the state, an anecdote which would be directly referenced by the song’s lyric: “Georgia claimed her – Georgia named her.”

The tune was first recorded on March 19, 1925, by bandleader Ben Bernie, resulting in a five-week number one for Ben Bernie and his Hotel Roosevelt Orchestra.[1]

One of the most popular versions of “Sweet Georgia Brown” was recorded in 1949 by Brother Bones and His Shadows and later adopted as the theme song of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team in 1952.

First, let’s us check out four versions:

Now let’s learn the song:

First, let’s analize the chords. The A section of Sweet Georgia Brown follows a chord progression that is very common in jazz known as backing cycling or the cycle of 5ths progression. Notice you start on E7 (at 4 o’clock) and then you go counter clockwise until you reach G, then you skip up to B7 and back cycle again. The B section is a I V in the relative minor (Em).

Here it is:

Tab and chords in the key of G

Tab and chords in the key of F

Let me know if you have questions.



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