A Vinyl History: Robert Brown's Music Collection Reflects Years of Love, Politics, and Social Change

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Angela Davis and Huey Newton posters stand guard on the walls in an off-campus apartment dimmed by black light. Incense burn and the silky crooning of the Stylistics set the mood. "R&B songs definitely helped a brother's rap," reflects Robert A. Brown, 57. from Oakland California. The music also communicated the social and political spirit of African Americans.

Brown has amassed a collection of 3,000 R&B albums and CDs. He also developed "Musical Soul of the '60s and '70s," the course he's taught at the University of California, Berkeley's Extension Program. A historical look at R&B, he says, "shows the musicians' constant search for change and meaning."

Brown's standout recordings include "We're a Winner" by the Impressions and "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye. These two songs are among the most politically and socially inspiring, he says. "When a Man Loves a Woman" by Percy Sledge and "At Last" by Etta James are his favorite love songs.

"Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder are at the top of my R&B class because they wrote songs of substance and love." says Brown. They endured when the music landscape changed.

Brown owns rare items such as" Nasty Gals," by Betty Davis. One of his rarest discs is Luther, the 1976 album Luther Vandross recorded with his short-lived group of the same name. …