By Sarah Grunau
The rise of funk music is rooted in the heart of the Civil Rights movement during the late ’60s. However, the development of funk dates back to the late 1940s, when polyrhythm was introduced to the New Orleans jazz scene.
Funk was created as a sub-genre, taking heavy influence from styles like blues and jazz. When Afro-Cuban impact was introduced, stylistic techniques like clave were starting to increase in popularity.
One of the first artists to use these techniques was Professor Longhair. With no specific genre in mind, Longhair’s style was given the name, Rumba-Boogie. Longhair’s polyrhythmic clave techniques were quickly adopted by the New Orleans rhythm and blues, also known as R&B, community.
Following in Longhair’s footsteps, James Brown was notably the first artist to start producing intricate polyrhythmic tunes accompanied by a 4/4 meter drumming style. By the mid-’60s, Brown was infamous for his Afro-funk and upbeat styles. During this time, Brown made many hits including the famous, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”
“Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” was ranked number 72 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. (In 2010 the magazine updated its list, and the song was moved up a rank to number 71.) The song is currently ranked as the 121st greatest song of all time, as well as the eighth-best song of 1965, by Acclaimed Music.
During the late ’60s, new funk artists began to emerge. Funk rock was a prominent sub-genre brought about by George Clinton. Clinton was responsible for some of the most important names of funk, Parliament and Funkadelic.
Funk rock brought new sounds with similar features of Longhair’s techniques. Funkadelic used complex bass lines and groovy synth lines that made the group immediately recognizable. By the 1970s, funk was a fully established genre and produced classic funk bands. A few of these revolutionary bands include Sly and the Family Stone, Chaka Khan, the Isley Brothers, Shuggie Otis, Bootsy Collins, Kool and the Gang and many more.
As the demand for funk music increases, funk subgenres have emerged in popularity. Some subgenres of funk include Funk Rock, Electronic Funk, Avant Funk, and my personal favorite, Jazz Funk. Jazz-funk is characterized by a strong groove and analog synth. Oftentimes, Jazz Funk is easily improvised.
Today, many modern musicians take influence from the great funk artists of the past. Funk is once again rising in popularity as musical technology improves, and the music becomes increasingly more dynamic.
Featured Image by Parliament-Funkadelic