The Era of Funk

Funk music took America by storm in the 1970s. The genre, influenced by R&B, Jazz, Gospel, and Blues, originated in the 1960s and gained its popularity a decade later. This dance music has a “funky” syncopated bass lines and steady infectious drum groove sound that gave artists, bands, and groups a new musical outlet.  

Stages of Funk

During his time in The Famous Flames, famous  funk artist, James Brown, developed a signature rhythm emphasizing the first downbeat of each measure in the late 1950s. This sound inspired several other bands such as, Sly and the Family Stone and Parliament Funkadelic to create their own sound, emerging in the 1960s. By 1970, funk had reached it’s peak. Solo artists like Michael Jackson and Rick James began to incorporate funk into their music while jazz musicians embraced elements of funk into their sound. 

Characteristics of Funk

James Brown- I Feel Good

Funk has four main characteristics, the first one being Syncopation. Syncopation is found in the guitar and bass lines, which adds the dance factor to funk. James Brown and Rick James take advantage of this in their hit songs, “Papa’s got a Brand New Bag” and “Super Freak” respectively. Usually, the 16th beat is the length of a whole note, but when a whole note has four beats, the 16th note only lasts for 1/4 of a beat. James Brown took advantage of this fact, making playing “on the one” the second characteristic of funk. Chords are heavily emphasized in funk. This genre has the 7th chord densely voiced along with major and minor chords on the 9th and 13th chord. This third characteristic oftentimes stretches for multiple measures. The fourth characteristic of funk is grooves driven by the bass guitar. The bass is one of the most important elements in funk’s sound, as the most influential funk musicians are bassists. 

The Influence of Funk

By 1970, funk had a heavy influence in the Black community. Artists like Prince adopted the funk sound in his music and the funk beat became the main rhythm in Black music. This influence branched out to other genres such as,  punk and rock, but the strongest influence funk has had on music is in hip-hop. From sampling to rhythm to collaborations, funk will always have a strong hold on music in the Black community. 


Following jazz, funk has its own unique sound that gradually became popular in the Black community. Although it got a slow start, funk will always have an influence on genres in the past present and future, as elements of funk are still incorporated in music today. 

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