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When was funk born?

The funk music genre was born in the United States in the early 1960s by African American musicians. The intent was to create a rhythmic, danceable style of music that took its cues from soul, jazz, and rhythm ‘n blues. Principle musical instruments of funk are the electric bass and drums that characterize many Greatest Hits of the genre.

What does the term funk indicate ?

The term “funk” (and its adjective funky) in the slang of African Americans generally denotes a bad smell, such as the odor given off by the body in a state of arousal, so it could mean “sexy“, “dirty“, “attractive” but also “authentic” that is, original and free of inhibitions.

Why the name “funk”

Like Jazz, Be Bop, and Rock n’ Roll, Funk acquired its name from a slang expression with sexual connotations. In musical terms, it originally meant anything that was off the traditional path or something that was “funky”, especially in the sense of being syncopated. Some of the earliest forms of Funk began in the city that gave birth to Jazz, New Orleans. Along with New Orleans native Fats Domino, one of the most influential musicians to contribute to the genre is piano player Henry Roeland “Roy” Byrd, popularly known as “Professor Longhair”. His style combines the sounds of early Rock n’ Roll and Blues with Afro-Cuban-influenced New Orleans Second Line.

Soul music first

In the 1950s, another primary precursor of Funk arose—Soul Music. It combined elements of Rock n’ Roll and Rhythm & Blues, with Ray Charles being among the first prominent Soul performers.

James Brown

Near the end of the decade, another artist appeared who would become the driving force of Soul/Funk music for over 40 years: James Brown, “The Godfather of Soul.”

James Brown’s pseudonyms

JAMES BROWN also known by the nicknames of: “Soul Brother Number One”, “Mr. Dynamite”, “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business”, “Minister of The New New Super Heavy Funk”, “Mr. Please Please Please”, “Universal James”, “Funky President” and “The King of R&B”. Brown created driving dance music which combined advanced musicianship with the syncopated and displaced rhythms which have come to characterize Funk. (This refers to “displacing” one of the snare drum strokes on beats 2 and 4 to the “and” of one of those beats.) Brown’s prominent bass players include Bernard Odum, William “Bootsy” Collins, Fred Thomas, and Ray Brundridge.

Motown record

In 1960 in Detroit, Motown Records, founded and run by Berry Gordy, composer of “Money,” helped create what is now called “the Motown sound”. Prominent bassists who recorded on the Motown label included James Jamerson and Bob Babbitt. They and other session musicians, informally known as the Funk Brothers, played on hundreds of recordings by different artists, without credit and with scanty financial compensation. Jamison, Babbitt and other Motown session musicians performed on more number one hits than the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, and Elvis combined, yet they benefited little from their string of hits.

Stax record

The other prominent Soul label at the time was Stax, whose recordings often featured bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn. By the mid-1960s, through the influence of James Brown, Stax, and Motown Records, the Soul style had become firmly established. Straight time, syncopated rhythms, conspicuous bass lines (utilizing offbeat eighth and/or sixteenth notes, often made prominent through staccato playing), displaced snare drum notes, percussive horn arrangements, and reliance on the blues scale all emerged as defining sounds of Funk—characteristics that remain to this day.

From 1963 funk begins to establish itself

As the sixties came to a close, several bands latched on to the infectious energy of Funk, with Sly and the Family Stone taking it into the pop mainstream. In addition to Sly Stone’s song writing, the group relied on bass lines devised by one of the most important musicians of the Funk style, Larry Graham. Graham almost single handedly changed the way electric bass guitar was played, as his slap and pop technique propelled the bass to the front of Funk ensembles.

Funk music comes to the world

By the early 1970s, Funk had become popular around the globe. Along with Graham and Sly and the Family Stone, Dr. John, the Meters, and later the Neville Brothers (with the latter three bands featuring bassist George Porter, Jr.) helped mature the sounds of Funk as it became ever more popular.

Some of the funk bands

During the rest of the decade, Funk continued to blossom through the success of artists/groups such as War, Tower of Power, Curtis Mayfield, George Clinton and Funkadelic, Earth, Wind and Fire, The Commodores, The Ohio Players, Stevie Wonder, Barry White, The Brothers Johnson, and The Average White Band.

The real funk until 1983

By the 1980s, Funk’s popularity had begun to diminish, even though the grooves of the Funk rhythm section had made their way into pop music through artists such as Prince, Michael Jackson, and Kool and the Gang. Even Rock bands of the past three decades have relied on Funk concepts, Dave Matthews, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Primus being prominent examples. Hip Hop and modern R&B have also borrowed heavily from the rhythms and grooves of traditional Funk.

Funk today

Today, the sounds and ideas of Funk pervade all popular music to such an extent that it has become an essential style for the working bassist.

On Funky Radio classic funk only

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