William (Billy) Brown, a musician and artist from Northern Ireland, dies on June 6, 1999 of a heart attack at his home in Johnstown, County Kildare. He is best remembered as a singer, saxophonist, and pianist with The Freshmen, one of Ireland’s most popular showbands of the 1960s and 1970s.
Brown is born in Larne, County Antrim in Northern Ireland. While studying at the Belfast College of Art he joins Billy McFarland’s Showband. Later he forms The Freshmen with some friends. Through Brown’s skillful arrangements, the band is able to reproduce sophisticated vocal harmonies in their covers of songs such as “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow,” “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” and “Carpet Man.”
Brown leaves The Freshmen in the mid-1970s to pursue other musical challenges, albeit with limited success. He later rejoins the band and, in 1977, they have one of their biggest hits with his composition, “Cinderella.” Following the breakup of The Freshmen, he has a minor solo hit in 1980 with his own song, “Look What Jerry Lee Did To Me.”
In his latter years, Brown develops his interest in wildlife, becoming a successful painter of nature scenes, as well as contributing his insights into the natural world on RTÉ 2fm‘s children’s show, Poporama.
Billy Brown dies of a heart attack on June 6, 1999, at his home in Johnstown, County Kildare. In its obituary, the Irish Independent refers to him as “one of the most gifted musicians of his generation.”
In a tribute to Brown following his death, Freshmen founder-member, Maurice Henry, describes his late friend’s pivotal role in the band:
“You could say Billy was The Freshmen and without his talent and innovative musical skills we would certainly not have achieved as much, either as a showband or in our recordings.”