“Marshall said there is something in the water here. God stuck his toe in the Five Rivers and made the music funky. The Ohio Players stayed in Dayton. They were really embedded into this community. They were role models to the younger musicians. They influenced their sound, their look and even the album covers.”
Popular music today would not be what it is without Black musicians, including many from Dayton who added their own tones and twists to the ever-changing tapestry of American music culture. That is particularly evident in the Dayton region’s role in the evolution of funk music, which will be honored at the Funk Music Hall of Fame & Exhibition Center, which is finding a new home in Trotwood.
The impact of funk went beyond music and album covers to stage costumes and public image. The personas of the musicians were amplified, pro-Black. Not every act was as flamboyant as the Ohio Players or Lakeside, but each had its own distinct look.
“The Dayton bands really embraced showmanship,” Blunt said. “They didn’t want to perform in casual clothes. Even today, the Ohio Players still want to look like a cohesive unit visually on stage. When I saw them at Levitt Pavilion in 2021, they had on all white. They weren’t wearing science fiction-style outfits, but it was still cohesive. All the funk bands adhered to a visual component based on the styles of the day. This was before music videos so when you performed on ‘Soul Train’ you really had to get your bang for the buck.”
“Soul Train,” which aired for 35 years, was appointment television for music fans of all races and ages. For the first time, you could actually hear and see Black musicians decked out in wild stage costumes playing their latest songs all from the comfort of the family sofa.
The syndicated program made its television debut in October 1971. “Soul Train” showcased R&B, soul, disco and, of course, funk for music fans throughout the United States until it ended its long run in March 2006. The program, which featured multiple musical guests each week as well as Black teenagers and twentysomethings dancing to hits of the day, was created and hosted by Don Cornelius, who was inspired by the Civil Rights Movement to showcase entertainers of color.
The Ohio Players first appeared on “Soul Train” in March 1972 in episode 23 of the first season. The band presented “Pain” alongside guests Gladys Knight & the Pips and Garland Green. “Soul Train” also welcomed other acts with Dayton ties like Heatwave, Zapp and Lakeside.
The styles and sounds that defined funk and continue to influence music today will be on display at the Funk Museum.
In 2019, the Funk Music Hall of Fame, also known as the Funk Center, was forced to vacate its original downtown Dayton location at 113 E. Third St. within the Fire Blocks District. Now, president and CEO David R. Webb and his team have begun early steps to re-open at the former Sears location at the Salem Mall in Trotwood. Construction of a multi-use facility including the museum and other businesses and amenities is scheduled to start in 2024.
Even without a brick-and-mortar location, Webb is finding ways to promote the region’s important place in funk music history. He and his team produce the long-running YouTube program, “The Funk Chronicles” and the syndicated, “The Dayton Scene Radio Show.” More recently, the Funk Center has expanded its community outreach and educational programs to include the traveling Funk Box Experience, slated Feb. 6-10 at the PNC Arts Annex courtesy of Dayton Live.
“We’ll have the space to do even more once we get in the new building,” Webb said. “We’ll be able to do master series classes in music, radio and art. It will open us up to a variety of educational components and entertainment options that we’ve always wanted to do at the Funk Center.”
Plans include an outdoor concert venue, and smaller performance space inside for during winter.
“We want to bring in local artists and national artists,” Webb said. “We want to have an impact on not just Trotwood but all of southwest Ohio. We want to bring all the communities together and give them a taste of live music.”
‘A national culture’
Black culture began entering the mainstream in the late 1960s and funk music wasn’t far behind. African American sports superstars like Muhammed Ali, Jim Brown and Bill Russell were national heroes embraced by all. Sidney Poitier, the first true Black leading man, became a box office star, winning the Academy Award for “Lilies of the Field” (1963). Television shows such as “Julia,” “Sanford and Son” and “The Jeffersons” featured Black families on the small screen.
Rickey Vincent discussed this cultural shift in his book, “Funk: The Music, the People, and the Rhythm of the One.”
“Black culture had finally become a ‘national’ culture,” Vincent wrote. “The nationwide networks that had been developing under crises such as civil rights marches, boycotts, and rebellions developed into social networks. There was a general sense of brotherhood and sisterhood, a faith in Black folks that carried across class and regional lines… Black styles were no longer based on region, such as ‘Southern’ or ‘New York,’ for there was more focus on what Black folks had in common.”
Influencing the future
Blunt, who is project coordinator for WYSO’s Dayton Youth Radio, also hosts the weekly Thursday night funk music program, “Behind the Groove.” He recognizes the importance of introducing local youngsters to the internationally beloved music created in their own backyard.
“I’ve noticed some of the African American students know about the Dayton legacy,” Blunt said. “Their parents still play the music or they have the vinyl they grew up around. They know about the legacy of the music and the different groups, but more young people need to know how it impacted Black culture at the time and still influences modern music today.
“It’s hip-hop for most of the kids of this generation. A lot of artists like A Tribe Called Quest, Jay-Z, Pete Rock and CL Smooth sampled music from Dayton funk artists. The (Funk Museum) and the Funk Box Experience are important to help keep that legacy going with the teenagers.”
While the Funk Museum will focus on the past, programming will also be dedicated to the present and future such as concerts, lectures and other live events.
“Dayton is famous for many things, flight being (among) the top, but establishing a music scene that continues to evolve and influence music today is really exciting,” said Chad Downing, Trotwood Community Improvement Corporation executive director. “I’m hopeful through the work of David’s team, and getting the permanent location built, they’ll be able to impress upon the youth and those from the region that being from Dayton means you can make a significant impact.”
BLACK HISTORY MONTH
Throughout February, the Dayton Daily News is highlighting the impact of Black trailblazers and leaders on our area, showcasing Black Daytonians’ contributions to the arts, and elevating Black perspectives on solutions to shared challenges. Read all of this coverage at daytondailynews.com/black-history.