In ancient African civilizations music took precedence in all activities that the tribes participated in. There was a song for every celebration, every birth, and every death. As Africans were enslaved and moved to North America by Europeans, many customs and traditions followed with them. As their culture was stripped from them and European ideals were placed upon them, they kept song as their universal language and their link to the motherland.
From early on, slave songs also known as "Negro Spirituals" were the first inclination of what could be considered African American music. These songs were largely influenced by the conversion of many Africans to Christianity, and generally held a religious overtone. As slavery came and went and those enslaved Africans settled and made this country their home. The music they made and celebrated evolved along with the culture. Gospel was one of the first of many musical styles to emerge from black communities. Developed as a religious style of music, gospel was one of the first indicators that the "black church" had formed.
Out of Gospel music emerged a more secular form of music called Blues. Blues spoke of some of the same hardships that negro spirituals and gospel music, but the object was not to ask for guidance from a spiritual entity. Many other musical genres were created and shaped from the experiences of Africans living in America. Everything from: Jazz to Soul to R&B all are direct contributions from the experiences of the Africans of the Diaspora. The last three genres that I spoke of are a combination of elements from three different cultures. African tribal culture, European culture and the culture birthed by the descendants of those slaves living in America.
This phenomenon is known as the black music continuum. The one style of music that has a place in each one of these cultures and has astounded listeners since its inception is that of funk music. With its boisterous sound and infectious bass lines funk was the sound of the 1970's and 1980's. Born out of a mixture of rock n roll and soul music styles, funk was the party sound that inspired the youth. The unopposed king of funk music is no other than George Clinton. Born in Kannapolis, North Carolina on July 22, 1941, Clinton became interested in do-wop while living in New Jersey during the early '50's.
When he found acid rock and protest music in the late 1960's, he combined cosmological rants with the already booming bass sound to form a new style of afrocentric funk. Clinton was the mastermind of the Parliament / Funkadelic collective, his two bands that he orchestrated during the 1970's. He formed the Parliaments in 1955, based out of a barbershop back room where he straightened hair. The group had a small R&B hit during 1967, but Clinton began to architect the Parliaments' activities two years later. Recording both as Parliament and Funkadelic, the group revolutionized R&B during the '70's, twisting soul music into funk by adding influences from several late-'60's acid heroes: Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, and Sly Stone. The Parliament / Funkadelic machine ruled black music during the '70's.
George Clinton broke up both bands by 1981 and began recording solo albums, occasionally performing live with his former band mates as the P. Funk All-Stars. capturing over 40 R&B hit singles (including three number ones) and recording three platinum albums. The psychedelic themes that Clinton displayed in his music appealed to black and white audiences alike and became very popular with those involved in the drug culture. Unfortunately, Clinton himself fell into the trappings of substance abuse and caused his career to take a downfall due to financial troubles. George Clinton and his funk music style fit into every sector of the black music continuum because it captured elements originally derived from all over sorts of cultures. Clinton was known visually for his flamboyant style of dress. He adorned bright colors and decoration to accentuate his dread locked hair.
His music was heavy in drum and bass and he used a variety of chant-like lyrics in his songs. These traits show a direct correlation between the funk style and African tribal music. The cosmological content and spaced-out ideologies present in his music were based on concepts developed by European thinkers centuries ago. The musical style of funk is uniquely original to the experiences of African Americans because it was created from a fusion of genres developed post slavery. The overlapping influences of African music and European music molded George Clinton into producing classic hits such as Atomic Dog, Flashlight, and Tear the roof off this sucker (give up the funk). For these accomplishments he is regarded as the pioneer to the funk style and accredited by many contemporary popular artists a major influence.
George Clinton defied conventional standards and stretched the boundaries of our musical imaginations to take us on a fantastic voyage aboard the mother ship of funk. One could argue that he created his own place within the black music continuum, seeing that what has done was never done like him and will never be duplicated with quite the same flare and flavor.