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    The 20 Best Funk Musicians of All Time


    In the 1960s, many people were looking for a new sound. To them, the doo-wop era was played out.

    So, various artists and bands have experimented with various music genres. And as a result, they birthed the sound of Funk in the late-1960s.

    Funk includes a mix of primarily African American music genres with the groove being its essential component. This essential component includes strong bass lines that are usually played by syncopated beats and the electric bass guitar. Also, there is an emphasis on the shifting from strong beats to off beats.

    Funk grew very quickly over the ages among the African American community. And thanks to some artists, it became a force to be reckoned nationally and beyond. This said, the following includes 20 of the best Funk musicians of all time:

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    1. James Brown

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    Widely known as the Godfather of Soul (and rightfully so) James Brown started his music career in Toccoa, Georgia, as a gospel singer. In the mid-1950s, he gained national public attention as the lead singer of a rhythm and blues vocal group founded by Bobby Byrd called The Famous Flames.

    The 1960s is when his music success peaked with the live album called Live at the Apollo. This album had hit singles, like “I Got You (I Feel Good)”, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, and “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”

    In the late 1960s, Brown changed his styles of gospel and blues sounds to a more Africanized approach to making music. In this transformation, his music emphasized interlocking rhythms that led to the development of funk music. And as a result, 17 singles of his reached number one on the Billboard R&B charts, and he is recognized for holding the most singles ever listed on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart.

    2. Sly Stone

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    Sly Stone is an American musician, record producer, and songwriter who was one of the main American musicians in the 1970s. He was the head of his group called Sly & The Family Stone, and this group was the first multiracial band that gained traction internationally.

    This music group wrote some of the most intensified funk and soul music. In fact, they played a critical role in funk music development by pioneering the fusion of gospel, soul, psychedelia, and rock in the 1960s and 1970s.

    Some of their main hits include “Everyday People” (1968), “Dance to the Music” (1968), “I Want to Take You Higher ” (1969), and “Than You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin”, (1969). Some of their other hits include “Family Affair” (1971) and “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” (1971).

    3. Joe Tex

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    In the mid-1960s, he began to soar in his career. In 1965, Joe Tex scored 6 top-40 hit singles on the R&B charts. Some of these hits were “S.Y.S.L.J.E.M” and “The Love You Save”.

    In the following year, he had two more number one hits, which were “A Sweet Woman Like You” and “I Want to (Do Everything for You)”. He then followed with two successive albums, The New Boss and Hold on To What You’ve Got.

    In 1967, he had hits, like ” Show Me” and “Skinny Legs and All”. “Show Me” became a frequent tune that British rock artists and later pop and some country artists used. “Skinny Legs and All” was his second million-selling hit.

    Sometime afterward, Tex left Atlantic and signed onto Mercury, where he had made several more R&B hits. Many of these hits were 1970’s “Buying a Book” and 1971’s “Give the Baby Anything the Baby Wants”.

    4. George Clinton

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    George Edward Clinton is an American funk singer, musician, songwriter, record producer, and bandleader. His Parliament-Funkadelic group was first called the distinct band names, Parliament and Funkadelic. This group developed an eclectic and influential style of funk music during the 1970s that drew on psychedelia, outlandish fashion, and surreal humor.

    His solo career began in 1982 with his album, Computer Games, which influenced G-funk and hip-hop in the 1990s. George Clinton ruled the music scene in the 1970s through the intensification of the mixture of funk, rock, psychedelia, and rhythm.

    Clinton’s second album, titled Free Your Mind… And Your Ass Will Follow, embodies the philosophical essence of his funk music. His main songs on this album include One Nation Under a Groove, Flashlight, and Give Up the Funk.

    5. War

    greatest funk band all time

    Originally called Eric Burdon and War, this group is an American funk, soul, and rock band from Long Beach, California. The band began in 1969. War is a crossover band that has the elemental infusion of jazz, funk, rock, R&B, Latin, psychedelia, and reggae.

    They are known for several hit songs, including “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”, “Spill the Wine”, and “The Cisco Kid”. Other hit songs they are widely known for include “The World is a Ghetto”, “Summer”, and “Low Rider”.

    Their album, The World is a Ghetto, was 1973’s best-selling album on Billboard. This music group transcended cultural and racial barriers with a multi-ethnic cast.

    6. Ohio Players

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    Most popular in the 1970s, Ohio Players is an American funk music group. They’re best known for their hit songs “Love Rollercoaster”, “Skin Tight”, “Funky Worm”, “Sweet Stickhin”, and “Fire”.

    They are also well known for their erotic album covers, featuring nearly nude or nude women. Several of those women were featured models in Playboy.

    The Ohio Players received gold certification awards for their albums, Fire, Skin Tight, and Love. In fact, this group reached its highest popularity in the mid-1970s due to their four consecutive albums, reaching high marks in the charts.

    These albums include Honey, Fire, Skin, Tight, and Contradiction. This period was considered the hottest season of funk.

    7. Isley Brothers

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    Originated from Cincinnati, Ohio, the Isley Brothers have persevered throughout different seasons over their extremely long career. This group started as a vocal trio, including Ronald Isley, Rudolph Isley, and O’Kelly Isley Jr., who are all brothers.

    Their career has thrived from gospel to soul to R&B, and they gained the ultimate respect from fans in the 1970s as a funk group. With a career that lasted more than seven decades and counting, the Isley Brothers have enjoyed the most diverse, most influential, and the longest careers in popular music.

    In the 1960s, the Isley Brothers recorded songs for different labels. Some of their top 20 hits during that period were “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)” for Motown, “Twist and Shout”, and “It’s Your Thing” on their own label called T-Neck Records. Some other well-known hits of theirs include “That Lady”, “Fight the Power”, and “The Pride”.

    8. Graham Central Station

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    Founded by Larry Graham, former bassist for Sly and the Family Stone, Graham Central Station was a funk music group. And over the second half of the 1970s, this band climbed the charts with hits, such as “Hair”, “The Jam”, and “Do Yah”.

    This group’s biggest hit was “Your Love”, which ranked number 9 in 1975 on the charts 1975. This group used Graham’s slap bass style along with various genres, ranging from gospel to marching band. Also, their group image was a contrast between the ‘sanctified’ gospel group image and the funk-rock star image.

    And in the late 1970s, Graham went solo and had a chart hit with “One in a Million, You”. He also featured along with former bandmates of Sly and the Family Stone on a few projects and a tour with Prince.

    9. Bootsy Collins

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    Bootsy Collins is an American singer, songwriter, and musician. He was the main member of Funkadelic/Parliament and James Brown’s band. In fact, he rose to prominence with James Brown during the first part of the 1970s.

    His humorous vocals and driving basslines established him as a leading name in funk. Larry Graham and Bootsy Collins were the most influential bass player of Funk music.

    His creative yet bizarre style extended the known grown boundaries. Also, Collins later formed his own side project of P-funk called Bootsy’s Rubber Band.

    He frequently collaborated with a plethora of musicians of various genres, such as electronic big beat (Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice”), dance music (Deee-Lite’s “Groove is in the Heart”), and alternative metal (Praxis’s Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis). Additionally, in 1997, Collins was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 1997 along with 15 other Parliament-Funkadelic members.

    10. The Commodores

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    The Commodores are an American soul and funk band that were at the pinnacle of success from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. Before getting involved with pop music in the 1980s, Lionel Richie was the creative genius of the Commodores, who yielded optimal success on the international charts.

    This group had composed a plethora of masterpieces, such as “Brick House”, “Easy,” “Machine Gun,” “Fancy Dancer,” “The Bump,” and “Hold On.” Some other huge hits of theirs included “Three Times a Lady”, “Nightshift”, and “Too Hot ta Trot”, “Lady (You Bring Me Up)”.

    This band was nominated nine times for the Grammy Award, in which one of them won. Also, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and Alabama Music Hall of Fame inducted them. The Commodores sold more than 70 million albums worldwide.

    11. Earth Wind & Fire

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    Earth Wind & Fire were among the most well-known funk music artists and bands. This music group has received public attention in 1975 with their hit “Shining Star”. And from there, they repeatedly made hit after hit.

    From the first era of pure funk music, Earth Wind & Fire were the forerunners of Disco Music that later ruled the Western music scene in the late 1970s. Top hits, like “Boogie Wonderland”, “Let’s Groove”, and “September” are some of their songs that became their own futuristic staple in Western music.

    12. Kool & The Gang

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    Formed in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1964, Kool & the Gang is an American band whose music career lasted for several decades with various musical styles. These musical styles include funk, soul, pop, rock, jazz, and R&B music.

    The band members included brothers, Ronald Bell and Robert “Kool” Bell, Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, Charles Smith, Robert “Spike” Mickens, Ricky West, and George Brown. And even though they started as a Jazz band, they knew that they had to evolve and thus received suggestions from various other musicians and getting references.

    In the late 1960s, Kool & the Gang signed to De-Lite Records. And in 1969, they debuted their album called Kool & the Gang. However, their fourth album, Wild and Peaceful, which was released in 1973, was their first successful one.

    This album’s top hits include “Hollywood Swinging” and the notorious, “Jungle Boogie”. Some of their other hits include “Funky Stuff”, “Funky Granny”,  and “Funky Man”.

    13. Rick James

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    Rick James was another one of the greatest funk stars in the 1970s and 1980s. He even brought it back on the scene from the predominant Disco Music.

    He also introduced elements of punk into this music genre. Even some other artists, like Mc Hammer, sampled his songs.

    James received three Grammy Awards, in which one of them is for being a co-writer for MC Hammer’s song, “U Can’t Touch This”. He also won an American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Album in 1982 and was inducted in 1996 into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame.

    He has tons of hits that he wrote for himself and others. Many of Rick James’ top hits include “Give it to me Baby”, “Bustin’ Out”, and “Mary Jane”.

    Before his success in his solo career, he was in some groups, and he joined the first group in 1965. Before joining his first music group, he changed his name and joined a group in Toronto to escape military duties.

    14. Prince

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    Prince was an American singer-songwriter, record producer, multi-instrumentalist, director, and actor. He took the best characteristics of Sly Stone, James Brown, and George Clinton and combined these characteristics, which produced the Minneapolis Sound. The geniality and uniqueness of his songs melded electronic, new wave, psychedelic music, and all that came into his mind.

    His music also included R&B, rock, synth-pop, jazz, and hip-hop. Prince was also well-known for his androgynous and flamboyant persona, wide vocal range, eclectic work, high-pitched screams, and far-reaching falsetto.

    Prince has sold more than 150 million albums globally, thus ranking him as one of the best-selling music artists of all time. His awards are as follows:

    • Won Seven Grammys
    • President’s Merit Award
    • American Music Awards for Achievement
    • Billboard Icon Award
    • Academy Award
    • Golden Globe Award
    • Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004
    • UK Music Hall of Fame in 2006
    • Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2016

    15. Chaka Khan

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    From Great Lakes, Illinois with her birth name, Yvette Marie Stevens, Chaka Khan is officially known as the Queen of Funk. She is also a composer and an actress. Also, her name was changed to Chaka Khan when she joined the Black Panther Party.

    Khan’s first solo album was in 1978, and yet she remained loyal and sometimes worked with Rufus until 1983. During the late 1970s to mid-1980s, she had great albums, including Masterjam, Camouflage, and Rufus & Chaka Khan Live! Stompin’ at the Savoy. These albums came with a plethora of hits, like “Ain’t Nobody”.

    As a result of Khan’s work, she received some awards. The VH1’s 100 Greatest Women of Rock’ N Roll recognized her at #17. And on May 19, 2011, she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

    16. Curtis Mayfield

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    Curtis Mayfield was an American singer, songwriter, producer, guitarist, and entrepreneur.  He was one of the main architects of Chicago-based soul music in the 1960s and 1970s.

    He began his music career in 1957 when he became a guitarist and vocalist for a group called the Impressions. After a while, a few members left, and now the group became a trio where Mayfield and his group members utilized a three-part alternating lead. Mayfield was allowed to use a delicate high tenor to balance out the tenor and bass in this trio.

    He then began his solo career in the early 1960s. Many of his top hits were “Gypsy Woman”, “It’s All Right”, “Keep on Pushing”, and “People Get Ready”. Also, when he was the lead vocalist of Impressions, he wrote humanistic pieces that were highly inspirational to uplift African Americans.

    17. Cameo

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    Cameo began in 1974, and it consisted of 14 members. Casablanca Records signed them to the label in 1976 to its Chocolate City imprint. Shortly afterward, they changed their name to Cameo because their manager told them that the name, “The New York City Players” was already taken by another group.

    Some of this group’s albums were top hits, and some had some success. Some of their hits charted on the Top R&B charts, and some did chart on the Billboard 100. Their hit, “She’s Strange” is one of their songs that made the Billboard.

    18. Zapp

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    Zapp, aka Zapp & Roger or Zapp Band, is an American funk band from Dayton, Ohio that emerged in 1977. Zapp was well-known for its trademark usage of the talk-box. This group was specifically influential in the electro-funk subgenre.

    And besides the four Troutman brothers, Zapp consisted of six other members. They also worked with Bootsy Collins of Parliament-Funkadelic and George Clinton during their early stages. And with this great support, they gained a record deal in 1979 with Warner Bros. Records.

    This group released its debut album in 1980. Their top hit from this album is “More Bounce to the Ounce”. Their second album is Zapp II which they released in 1982, and it became certified gold.

    Zapp also influenced the regional G-funk sound in the 1990s. Their influence also landed in the broader West Coast hip-hop cultural scene.

    19. Herbie Hancock

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    Herbie Hancock is well-known as a jazz star, piano player, and composer. However, he experimented with funk and soul music a lot in his works as well.

    Hancock also plays the synthesizer and keyboards. He won 10 Grammy Awards and performed with other top artists, like Miles Davis, Carlos Santana, Paul Simon, and Sting.

    In addition to winning 10 Grammy Awards, he has received other awards. The Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame inducted him in 1995.

    The USA’s National Endowment for the Arts made him a recipient of a Jazz Masters Award. Hancock also was received a Star on September 8, 1994, on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

    20. Al Green

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    Al Green is an American singer, record producer, and songwriter who is best known for recording a series of soul and funk music in the early 1970s. Many of his hits include “Take Me to the River”, “I’m Still in Love with You”, “Tired of Being Alone”, “Love and Happiness”, and “Let’s Stay Together”.

    He also received a plethora of awards for his work. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Green in 1995.

    The museum’s site has in writing that Green is one of the most gifted soul music purveyors. Many also referred to Green as “The Last of the Great Soul Singers”.

    Other awards include him winning 11 Grammy Awards. One of these awards is the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

    The Rolling Stone list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time included Green with a ranking of #65. He is also among the list of the 100 Greatest Singers, ranking at #14.

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