“A sensation… a universal feeling from another dimension” also known as Funk. In the late 1960s and early 1970s from Muddy Water Blues Funk music emerged. This genre originated in African American communities when black musicians created a highly rhythmic and danceable genre combining Soul, Jazz, and Rhythm & Blues. Funk developed during a period in American history when African Americans began to gain rights and liberation. This was celebration music resulting from their progress in society.
Funk music can be described as an unapologetically black expression of an urban reality at that time. Funk is upbeat, groovy, and highly syncopated. Its strong rhythmic accents and bass lines make it impossible to sit still to. A key characteristic of Funk is that it utilized the rhythm of “one.” There was always a musical emphasis on the first beat, which was coined and made popular by James Brown. Funk was more than music, it was a social movement and its implications were widespread globally. Funk was a way of life: the way you walk, talk, and dress, an attitude. This attitude spread throughout the world. This new liberation of black people also created an atmosphere of pro blackness, while simultaneously promoting unity and positivity amongst all people. The atmosphere during this time was known as the time of “One Nation Under The Groove.”
There is a long list of musicians that are responsible for spreading this attitude and way of life, but the first and most influential is James Brown: the Godfather of Funk. James Brown got his start in the music industry as a Soul and R&B artist. Around the early 1960s he began developing bands and creating the funky music that would soon become global. He was the man that taught everyone else how to be Funky!
“Get Up” x James Brown
“The Payback” x James Brown
The next group of musicians had a massive influence over the way of life that was Funk: Sly & The Family Stone. This was a mixed rage and gender Funk band from San Francisco, California who emerged in the mid 1960s. Their members were Sly stone, the leader and writer of majority of their content, Larry Graham, Cynthia Robinson, Greg Errico, and many more. Their most famous songs are “Dance To the Music,” “Everyday People,” “Thank You (Falenttinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” and “If You Want Me To Stay.” Sly & The Family Stone are members of the Grammy Hall of Fame and have a Rhythm & Blues Pioneer Award. They are credited with creating the “look” of Funk. They arrived to all of their shows dressed on one accord: bell-bottoms, platform shoes, Afros, hats, fur jackets, etc. They lived a life of Funk both onstage and off.
“Thank You” x Sly & The Family Stone
“Everyday People” x Sly & The Family Stone
Other popular Funk artists were Rick James, George Luke, and Prince. Other popular Funk bands were Lakeside (Fantastic Voyage), The Gap Band (Outstanding), Earth, Wind, & Fire, and Parliament Funkadelic. Many of these bands have music that is featured in movies like Roll Bounce and Johnson’s Family Vacation, which is evidence of their influence, popularity, and success as crossover artists.
After the success of Sly and The Family Stone many other mixed race and white bands like Average White Band and Tower of Power began to adopt the notion that they, too, could be Funky. This is when Funk began taking more global strides and the commodification of the genre grew. In later years, Funk’s influence helped create Hip Hop music. The upbeat and highly rhythmic nature of hip-hop came directly from Funk. Funk also directly influenced disco Dance music. Both Hip Hop and Disco incorporate musical aspects that were first played by Funk musicians.
Funk music is a beautiful representation and expression of the progress African Americans were making in society during that time. I love and appreciate Funk for the positivity energy it spread throughout not only the Black community, but also the United States.