Floretha Brown, who sings in the alto section, joined the New York City Labor Chorus soon after it started, at the end of 1991 or early in 1992. She saw a notice in the District Council 37 newspaper, and went to try out, along with her daughters Vernerva (soprano) and Alethea (alto) and her sons Manuel and Anthony (both tenors). Jeffrey Fairweather was the director at that time. Her daughters and Anthony had to stop because of their work schedules, but Manuel stayed in the Chorus and was on the first recording.
Floretha has always loved music. At the age of four she moved with her family to Brooklyn from Glennville, Georgia. She and her family worked in the potato fields in Bridgehampton, Long Island. While working in the fields, she and her family would sing songs, pray, make music with the washboard and two sticks beaten together, and clap their hands and stomp their feet to the music.
She learned to play the piano at an early age, at first picking out songs with two fingers. She sang in the church choir and the glee club at P.S. 3 and Girl’s High School in Brooklyn. She still belongs to the Girls High School Alumni Association as well as the Metropolitan College of New York Alumni.
In 1964 Floretha became a Volunteer Human Services Worker. As a result of her community participation, she was referred by Mrs. Elise Richardson of School District 16 to the Women’s Talent Corp. where she was trained as a Community Liaison Worker. While employed by New York City Housing and Development, she worked for and received her bachelor’s degree from the College of Human Services. She worked for the City for 31 years and retired in 1992, a member of Local 371. She is also the mother of nine children—three girls and six boys—and was married to one man, Samuel Brown, Jr., for 52 years.
“I have enjoyed singing and traveling with the New York City Labor Chorus. My fondest memories include when the Chorus sang in Sweden, when we sang with Pete Seeger, and singing in a memorial tribute to Paul Robeson at Carnegie Hall.”
However, she worries that the Chorus is having a hard time attracting young people, partly because people can’t easily get time off from work, and also because “many of our songs are about the sufferings of days past. Songs about slavery and hard times are antiquated, and are not what young people listen to these days. My wish is that the Labor Chorus will continue to sing of the struggles and triumphs of the labor movement.”