KEXP Documentaries: “James Brown Creates Funk”

Popular R&B artist James Brown invented funk music by changing the accents and voicings in soul music. He released the first known funk single, “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag,” in 1965. This new kind of music drew from gospel, jazz and R&B and would lay the foundation for future genres of music like hip-hop, electronic dance, funky rock and neo-soul.

Rickey Vincent, author of the definitive book Funk, the Music the People and the Rhythm of the One says:

Funk is a hard-driving musical sound and style and world view that came out of the James Brown sound, the James Brown groove in the late 1960s. And it’s built on rhythm-n-blues and jazz and gospel and soul. It produces a heavy, hard-hitting groove and beat. And a danceable vibe you can’t resist. And it laid the foundation for hip-hop through the beats and the attitude.

Fred Wesley, James Brown’s band arranger and legendary trombone player, says “Funk is a way of playing music rhythmically, rather than cerebrally or chordally.”

Through the rest of the 60s, James Brown and his band hit the charts with funk songs “Cold Sweat”, “I Got You” and “Mother Popcorn”. Funk wasn’t only strong on the dance floor, James Brown used is as a political platform with the 1968 single “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)”. Giving African-Americans a new kind of pride in their ethnic identity with”Say It Loud” definitely cost James Brown some commercial success, but it changed the face of America forever.

Listen to this KEXP Documentary:

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If you’re hungry for more funk, go see Prince perform at the Tacoma Dome on December 19th. We also highly recommend the book Hit Me, Fred by James Brown’s bandleader Fred Wesley.

KEXP Documentaries are created by Michele Myers. Assistant Producers are John Felthous and Mary Janisch. Lesson Plans are created by Tiffany Grobelski and Michele Myers. Executive Producer is Kevin Cole. If you would like to follow along more closely in the creation of these radio stories, we post historical music facts, research materials, songs and videos on ourFacebook page and on Twitter.

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