*No longer are they unsung.
It started with the movie ‘Standing in The Shadows of Motown,’ and now Motown’s house band – Funk Brothers – who were the drover of more hits than any other historical musical entity, have received a well-deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Two of the original members Jack Ashford and Eddie Willis were on hand for the occasion. Another surviving member, Joe Messina, was unable to attend.
The ceremony took place Thursday, March 21 at the intersection of Hollywood Blvd and Sycamore Avenue – just across the street from where another Motown group, The Miracles, received their star just four years ago almost to the date. The Funk Brothers’ star is next to the stars of famed musicians Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, and Herbie Hancock. The emcee for the event was Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, President/CEO Leron Gubler, and guest was speaker Ray Parker Jr. among others. Gubler said, “Many of us grew up with their amazing hit songs which they performed with some of the biggest stars of Motown!”
In attendance at the ceremony and at the afterglow in Beverly Hills were many Motown luminaries: Stevie Wonder, Claudette Robinson, Janie Bradford, Betty Kelly, Cornelius Grant, Iris Gordy, Karla Gordy Bristol, William ‘Mickey’ Stevenson, Freda Payne, Louis Price, Marvin Marshall, Tony Newton, Greg Wright, Reggie Dozier, and many, many others connected with the Motown family. Ron Brewington of the Motown Alumni Association (MAA) was also on hand (he was the driver in getting Marvin Gaye’s star on the Star Walk. KJLH DJ Roland Bynum offered a special acknowledgement of the recent (back to back) losses of Motown singers Damon Harris, Richard Street, Bobby Rogers, Bobby Smith, and a Gordy family member Robert Bullock. He also acknowledged Street’s widow Cynthia who was in the audience.
While being interviewed by TV station KTLA, Wonder took the opportunity to correlate the accomplishments of The Funk Brothers with one of the pressing issues of the day. He said:
“You know they call me the little funk brother (laughs)…but it’s amazing today I was checking out on CNN the president in Israel talking about the need for having peace, and the vice-president in New York talking about gun violence and how we have to really make [inaccessible] to people…weapons…really they’re war weapons…
guns that should not be on the street. And I was thinking how we have had so many potential musicians, great producers, arrangers, songwriters that have died at the hands of guns…our young people, and we just have to put an end to these kinds of things. Knowing how incredible the Funk Brothers were and what they did without question we need to have arts in schools – music in schools. Whatever that takes…talking to congress men and women…the various politicians…we have to have things in schools to allow children to use that energy positively, constructively.’ He later brought the house down with some of his classic hits including ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered.”
Funk Brothers history: Between the late 1950s and 1970s, the Funk Brothers were the heartbeat on nearly every major hit record from Motown’s Detroit era. This unsung group of musicians arranged and played on more No. 1 hit songs than any other band in history. Their body of work makes them the greatest musical hit machine and the most creative musical force in the history of popular music. The Funk Brothers created that unmistakable sound that launched a thousand hits. Listen to any hit song today to emerge from the Motown era, and you will hear the original, unique and signature riffs and rhythms created by the magic tunes of the Funk Brothers that became — and will be forever known as — the Motown sound.
While other musicians accompanied them from time to time, the Funk Brothers band was a 13-member group of highly-talented musicians comprised of: Richard “Pistol” Allen, Jack Ashford, Bob Babbitt, William “Benny” Benjamin, Eddie “Bongo” Brown, Johnny Griffith, Joe Hunter, James Jamerson, Uriel Jones, Joe Messina, Robert White, Eddie Willis and Earl Van Dyke.
In the late 1950s in what was called “Hitsville USA” inside a tiny Detroit basement studio called the “snake pit” and under contract for Motown Records, the Funk Brothers spent days and countless nights arranging and recording the unshakeable and unmistakable foundation of music for many of Motown’s legendary stars. For 20 years, they transformed that small basement in Detroit into a Motown hit factory by a world-class studio band, often paid only $10 per song; and where such greats as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells, and Smokey Robinson got their start as teenagers and were mentored by the Funk Brothers themselves.
This brilliant ensemble participated in developing, arranging and producing many of the legendary songs and No. 1 hit songs we still hear and enjoy today. The group performed with Diana Ross, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and The Pips, The Jackson Five, and many more. Some of their award-winning hits include: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing, Baby Love, Back in My Arms Again, Can I Get a Witness?, For Once in My Life, Going to a GO-GO, The Tears of a Clown, What’s Going On, You are the Sunshine of My Life, Papa Was a Rolling Stone and many, many others.
In 2002, over 40 years after they played their first note and three decades since they were all together, the Funk Brothers reunited in Detroit to play their music and tell their unforgettable story, as part of the double-Grammy Award-winning documentary “Standing In The Shadows Of Motown.” The documentary recognized The Funk Brothers’ musical contributions and their unprecedented body of work. The Music Division of the Library of Congress presented a movie screening of “Standing In The Shadows Of Motown” as part of “I Hear America Singing,” an initiative to celebrate America’s rich musical heritage.
For more information and to view who shares a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, visit www.walkoffame.com