Although funk music was created in the 1960s it was at its most popular in the 1970s. Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate between disco and funk, but there are major contrasts between the two genres although many funk tempos can be heard in disco records. Funk music has its own special rhythm. It is a mixture of, jazz, soul and blues that is transformed into a sound rhythm sound with the electric bass and the drums being the dominant instruments. Melody is a distant second behind the rhythm groove of the music.
Funk music was epitomized by the sounds of James Brown. Records such as “sex Machine” and “I know you have got soul” were huge hits and carried the rhythm of the music. What made Brown’s music unique were the catchy vocals, blended with the odd scream and grunt. Another band who were closely associated with funk were Sly and the Family Stone. Despite the massive problems the group suffered with drugs use the hits “family affair” and “Thank you” were true funk hits. Their surprising longevity saw the band making records in the 1960s, 1970s and the 1980s.
As well as certain acts evolving from other genres such as soul and blues there were groups who were renowned as funk acts. Kool and the Gang emerged from Jersey City with their singles “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging” each selling a million copies. Later they would evolve into a Rhythm and Blues act achieving great success with their album “Celebrate”.
Barry White was a singer whose voice was tailor made for the funk sound. His deep pitch combined perfect with the heavy base rhythm and the 1970s was a period when he produced hit single after hitting single. One of his biggest successes was providing the sound track for the film “Together Brothers”. He was not the only funk musician whose music was being used for movie sound tracks. The film Shaft was released in 1971 and its music was written and performed by Isaac Hayes. The music received a number of Grammy Awards for Best Core Soundtrack, Best Instrumental Arrangement and Best Original Song. When a sequel of the film was released in 2000 it used virtually the same music score. Other artists, such as Bobby Womack and Marvin Gaye also produced funk styled music scores for the films “Across 110th Street” and “Trouble Man”. The genre reflected perfectly the atmosphere and rhythm of American urban life in the 1970s.
As the decade progressed the influence of funk was felt in jazz, as Jazz Funk appeared. This was the created by blending jazz with funk. The use of electric pianos and electric bass guitar were embraced by conductors such as Herbie Hancock. His Headhunters band were the first of many to play Jazz funk and create its own unique sounds. The sounds of funk were heard throughout the 1970s, as the popularity of the genre increased. Chaka Khan was known as the Queen of Funk starting her career as the lead vocalist in the band Rufus. She would later go on and launch an equally successful solo career and during this time funk influences could be heard through her sounds. This was equally true of artists such as Stevie Wonder and Donna Summer. Funk’s popularity may have peaked during the 1970s, but it has never lost its influence on the music scene.