While funk may combine many genres of music, the birth of funk started with James Brown. James Brown has been around since the 50’s and built a successful career as the “Godfather of Soul” but it was his electrifying stage performances that began to define funk. Brown was a musical perfectionist that made his band rehearse constantly until their performances were flawless. It would be the song “Cold Sweat” that would become the first bona fide funk song.
James Brown and the Birth of Funk
Once “Cold Sweat” became a hit for James Brown other artist started to follow that style of music. Sly the Family Stone and their song “Family Affair” reached the coveted number one spot on the Billboard charts bringing funk to the mainstream. Motown began to sign artists with that funky sound this included Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder.
In the late 60’s and early 70’s funk began to get political alongside the Civil Rights Movement. African American artists began to stand up for their rights and they started singing about Black pride and that included James Brown. The wide audiences that artists like Brown attracted showed the world how it was possible to for a musician to celebrate their identity. Funk became identified with “unapologetic Blackness”.
George Clinton Carries the Torch
The most well-known funk artist after James Brown has to be George Clinton. Funkadelic and Parliament created the first completely funk albums. George Clinton is a funk genius and they brought crazy guitar chords and developed this complex sound. George Clinton never earned the mainstream approval as did other bands of the time. Earth, Wind and Fire had several chart topping hits and reached a broader audience. While funk purists credit George Clinton as the master of funk.
By the 80’s funk was well and truly established as a musical genre and there were plenty of established artists. Chaka Khan paved the way for women to get into funk. Throughout the era bands like the Fatback Band and KC and the Sunshine Band filled arenas and stadiums all over the world. Like any other genre of music as new artists came funk began to grow and evolve. Modern day funk music doesn’t sound anything like James Brown did back in the day, but it is still very much funk. That distinct sound though…that has never changed.