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Digital Classroom: Ruth Brown, "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean"

"Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean" (1953)

Ruth Brown’s “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” was a smash hit on the R&B charts in early 1953. The song encapsulates the energy and excitement of African-American music in the first half of the 1950s. This was the type of R&B that Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed played on his “Moondog” radio show, which exposed African-American music to a broad audience of young people. Ruth Brown (inducted 1993) was the biggest female star of the “Big Bang” era of rock and roll, when the music exploded across America. Her popularity helped propel the success of Atlantic Records, the independent record label co-founded by Ahmet Ertegun. Ertegun loved R&B, and recognized the potential of the music to captivate an audience. Brown took elements from gospel and blues to create her own distinctive sound, and Atlantic Records became “The House That Ruth Built.”

Lesson Plan & PowerPoint

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Ruth Brown Lesson Plan

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Ruth Brown PowerPoint

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Classroom Resources

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Video: Ruth Brown on Touring and R&B in the 1950s

Ruth Brown, during an oral history interview in 2000, describes the racial segregation she encountered in the south and how rhythm and blues music was able to help break down existing racial barriers.



Video: Rhythm and Blues Breakdown, "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean"

Rock Hall educators discuss the song "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean."



Video: Atlantic and the Spirit of Entrepreneurship

Rock Hall educator Jason Hanley discusses the importance Atlantic Records as an independent record label in its early years.



Video: Ruth Brown Hall of Fame Series Interview

Ruth Brown talks about her relationship with Atlantic Records during a Hall of Fame Series at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in February 1998.



Video: Women in 1950s Rock and Roll

Learn about the limitations imposed upon women—especially African-American women—in 1950s rock and roll.



Infographic: Women on the R&B Charts in the 1950s

Male performers dominated the Rhythm and Blues charts in the 1950s. As you can see from the infographic below, of the 80 weeks that women had number 1 hits on the charts, Ruth Brown had hits on 32 of those weeks. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

Infographic: Women on the Rhythm and Blues Charts in the 1950s

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Download the infographic here



Artifact: Concert Poster: Bluefield Auditorium, June 30, 1957

Describe what you see.
What do you observe?

  • The concert is described as a “show and dance.”  What does this tell us about the experience of being at a rock show in 1957?  What does the line-up and billing order tell us about this show?  
  • What does it tell us about rock and roll in 1957? What can we learn from Ruth Brown’s top billing?  Why are record labels listed?
  • The concert poster states that the “entire balcony reserved for white spectators.”  What does this reveal about the concert experience in 1957?  What questions does this statement raise given the performers on the bill?  How does this reflect broader issues of race in America in the 1950s?

Ruth Brown Poster

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Use this link to download a high-resolution image for this activity.