What the Funk: A History of Funk Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


This blog post covers the history of funk music, from its origins in the 1960s to its present day popularity.

Funk Origins

funk is a music genre that originated in the mid-1960s when African American musicians created a rhythmic, danceable new form of music through a mixture of soul music, jazz, and rhythm and blues (R&B). Funk de-emphasizes melody and harmony and brings a strong rhythmic groove of electric bass and drums to the foreground.

African American music traditions

Funk is a music genre that originated in the African-American community in the mid-1960s. Funk is a style of dance music that is characterized by a strong bassline and drumbeat, as well as call-and-response vocals. Funk music was created by Black people who were influenced by other genres of music, such as jazz, soul, and R&B.

Funk was popularized by James Brown, who is often referred to as the “Godfather of Funk.” Brown’s style of music was heavily influenced by African rhythms and blues. He created a new sound that blended these genres together, and his style of funk became very popular in the black community.

Other artists who helped to popularize funk music include George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, Sly and the Family Stone, Kool and the Gang, and Earth, Wind & Fire. Funk music has also been influence by rock music, hip hop music, and electronic dance music.

The influence of James Brown

It’s fair to say that without James Brown, funk would not exist as a genre. The Godfather of Soul was one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, and his impact was felt far beyond the world of soul and R&B. Brown’s music was the perfect blend of African-American musical traditions, with a healthy dose of innovation thrown in for good measure. His signature sound – a combination of hard-hitting beats, soulful vocals, and expertly executed dance moves – was like nothing that had been heard before, and it would go on to be hugely influential in the development of funk.

Brown’s influence can be heard in the work of subsequent funk pioneers such as Sly Stone, George Clinton, and Bootsy Collins. These artists took the basic ingredients of Brown’s sound and added their own unique flavors to create a new musical style that would come to be known as “funk”. Funk is often seen as a rebellious offshoot of soul music, but its roots can be traced back directly to James Brown and the sound he created in the 1960s.

The Funk Sound

Funk is a style of music that was developed in the 1960s and 1970s. It is a hybrid of African-American genres such as blues, jazz, and soul. Funk music is characterized by a groove that is created by the interaction of the rhythm section and the lead instruments. The lead instruments often have a “riff” that is played over the groove.

The groove

The Funk Sound, or “the groove” as it is commonly referred to, is a distinctive style of African American music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The style is characterized by a strong backbeat, emphatic basslines, and percussive rhythmicpatterns. The use of electronic instruments, such as synthesizers and drum machines, is also common in funk music.

Funk originated in the African American communities of the Southeast United States, particularly in Louisiana and Texas. The style was strongly influenced by James Brown’s brand of soul music, which itself was a continuation of earlier styles such as gospel and rhythm and blues. Funk also drew inspiration from Brazilian musical styles such as samba and Bossa Nova.

The popularity of funk music began to decline in the late 1970s, but the style has remained an important influence on subsequent genres such as hip-hop, dance music, and electronic music.

The feel

The funk feel is a combination of the groove and hard-hitting sound of the rhythm section with the lead instruments playing “riffs”, or repeated phrases, that embellish the basic harmony. The feel is often credited to James Brown’s early 1960s rhythm section, which emphasize the downbeat—with heavy emphasis on the first beat of every measure (“the one”), a prominent, syncopated bass line and drum patterns with shifting tonal centers, giving a propulsive feel. Other credited pioneers include George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic collective (especially Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell) and Sly and the Family Stone. Funk groups were also influenced by synthesizer-based disco music of the late 1970s, including colloquially derogatory terms such as “guilty feet” or “yacht rock”.

Funk music is distinguished by a complex syncopated rhythms created by stress on the off-beat—most notably, the emphasizing of both seventh notes (such as in “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes) and their extension in phrases (such as in “Brick House” by The Commodores), or elongated eight-note figures such as in Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” or Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. These unusual time signatures are achieved by stressing certain beats over others: most funk has a 4/4 time signature with an emphasis on its second beat (hence its characteristic snare drum sound), but some has a 2/4, 6/8 or 12/8 time signature instead.

Funk Bands and Artists

Funk music is a genre of music that originated in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is a style of music that is characterized by a heavy bass line and rhythmic groove. Funk music is often associated with the African-American community, but it is also enjoyed by people of all cultures.


Parliament-Funkadelic is a musical collective headed by George Clinton. The group was originally active from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, and was notable for its innovative fusion of funk, soul, and rock music. After disbanding, Parliament-Funkadelic reformed in the early 1990s and has continued to perform and record since then.

Bootsy’s Rubber Band

Bootsy’s Rubber Band was an American funk band formed in 1976 by bassist Bootsy Collins. The band’s lineup included several other well-known musicians, such as guitarist/singer Catfish Collins, keyboardist/singer Bernie Worrell, and drummer Frank Waddy. The group was known for their elaborate stage shows, which featured costumes, puppets, and other visually-appealing props and effects. They released several albums throughout the 1970s and 1980s, including ‘Stretchin’ Out in Bootsy’s Rubber Band’ (1976), ‘Ahh…The Name is Bootsy, Baby!’ (1977), and ‘This Boot is Made for Fonk-N’ (1979). The band’s popularity waned in the 1990s, but they continue to tour and perform to this day.

The Meters

The Meters were an American funk band, active from the late 1960s to late 1970s. Formed in 1965 by Zigaboo Modeliste (drums), George Porter Jr. (bass guitar), Leo Nocentelli (guitar), and Art Neville (keyboards), they were later joined by keyboardist/vocalist Cyril Neville. The band performed and recorded their own brand of funk music throughout the 1970s, and were an influential part of the New Orleans funk scene.

The Meters had a hit in 1969 with “Cissy Strut”, which peaked at number four on the Billboard R&B chart. They are also credited as being one of the original progenitors of ‘second-line’ funk, characterized by a rolling, loping bass line and concise guitar riffs inspired by Mardi Gras Indian rhythms.

The Legacy of Funk

Funk music has been around for decades, and it’s still as popular as ever. The genre is a mix of soul, R&B, and rock. Funk is known for its catchy grooves and soulful vocals. The genre has produced some of the greatest musicians of all time. Let’s take a look at the history of funk music.

Funk’s influence on hip hop

Funk has been a major influence on hip hop since the genre’s beginnings. Hip hop verbalists have always incorporated elements of funk into their flow, and the style has been integral to the production values of hip hop since the 1980s. In the early days of hip hop, many tracks were built around samples from classic funk recordings. As producers began to create more original material, they drew upon funk for inspiration, using its distinctive rhythmic grooves as the foundation for their beats.

Funk’s impact on hip hop has been profound. The style has shaped the sound and feel of countless tracks, and its influence can be heard in the music of some of rap’s most popular and enduring artists, including James Brown, Parliament-Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins, and George Clinton. Funk has also played a role in the careers of many prominent hip hop producers, including Dr. Dre, Quincy Jones, and Teddy Riley.

The enduring popularity of funk

It’s hard to overstate the enduring popularity of funk music. Funkadelic, Parliament, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, the Ohio Players, and Sly and the Family Stone were all massive commercial successes in the 1970s, with several of them crossing over into the pop mainstream. And while most of these groups have long since disbanded or ceased recording new music, their influence can still be felt today in artists as diverse as Bruno Mars, Outkast, Beyoncé, and many more.

So what is it about funk that has made it such a lasting and influential musical style? Part of it has to do with the music’s infectious groove, which is often based around a repeating bassline and tight rhythm section. But funk also has a rebellious quality to it that has appealed to successive generations of listeners. As George Clinton, the mastermind behind Parliament-Funkadelic, once said, “Funk is its own reward.”

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