The Browns Sing Three Bells

The only reason my father has a son who is a Stanford University Professor rather than a gas station attendant is that when my dad was a little boy, he was run over by a speeding car: Horrible injuries, a year in a body cast – agony. The reckless driver had to compensate my dad’s struggling family with a fund that let him go to college, which at that time of economic expansion was a ticket up to the middle class. But more of that story some other day.

When he was in college, his fraternity were champion singers. Their signature song was “Three Bells” (also sometimes called “Little Jimmy Brown”). I realized after talking to him recently that I’d never actually heard it, so I googled and found this. Simply lovely melody memorably voiced by The Brown Family.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

11 thoughts on “The Browns Sing Three Bells”

  1. Awww! I haven’t heard this in decades. Brings back some very fond memories. Thanks for posting.

  2. “… a Stanford University Professor rather than a gas station attendant …”
    A pardonable hyperbole. Surely the odds in the 1960s were that with intelligence, diligence and an appetite for ideas you would have acquired some sort of a degree without the stroke of misfortune? Community college lecturer or small-town newspaper reporter at worst.

    1. Kind of you to say so James. Steel worker, coal mining engineer or the military are probably the most likely, considering where we lived and what older relatives and passed ancestors did for a living.

  3. Funny thing…re-reading the post, I notice four multi-beat words ending in y in my last sentence…I wonder if that is the lingering subconscious effect of the melody on how I wrote about it.

  4. A gem of cross-over song. I remember it well from the summer of 1959. The ‘Jimmy Brown’ bit references a much older hillbilly song, ‘Jimmy Brown, the Newsboy’. Lester Flatt did a number of recordings of it, almost all, sadly, out of print.

    But, I’m very curious what college singing group would do ‘The Three Bells’ in the early 60s. Very untypical of, say, a Whiffenpoofs-type song list.

    1. My dad was in Beta Theta Pi — they entered competitions with other fraternities around the country. Not sure if it was just other chapters of Beta or all fraternities. It was a nerdy all male school, Carnegie Institute of Technology, which may be important context.

  5. Well, that makes some sense. Carnegie Tech is 50 miles from one of the centers of hillbilly music: Wheeling, W.Va. and WWVA. The Betas at Ohio State were great in that era, and they were at Wisconsin where my son pledged in 2003. Solid guys, then and now.

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