Both versions of this tune get played here at the house. Nina Simone in 1961 and Tennessee Ernie Ford on a 1967 recording. I’ll take Nina over Ernie any day, though.
Not surprisingly, this song is one that started in the soul/blues land of Black America and hopped the white picket fence like so many other great songs that could only be “greater” if a “right coloured” man or woman sung them instead. (I’m aiming for sarcasm there.)
Wikipedia is slim on details but Oscar Brown, Jr. wrote this and over hundred others over his lifetime. Born in Chicago in 1926, he tried other pursuits over his life but wound up in the music biz. hulshofschmidt adds more:
In the mid-50s he got his next break, working on the black freedom project We Insist – Freedom Now! with Max Roach. He was then signed to Columbia records where he recorded for over a decade, working with other pioneers like Quincy Jones.
Brown wrote the musical Kicks and Co., set on an historically black college campus in the South, dealing with desegregation. The Today show gave him an entire show to present the musical to raise funds for its production. Sadly, funding was insufficient and the show was never mounted. He wrote and produced an other socially conscious musical, Joy, in 1966.
There’s a documentary about him called Music Is My Life/Politics is My Mistress that might be worth a look for. (I learn of this through Google Books and Jet Magazine, June 20 2005.)