Greatest Funk Stars in Music History

'The Godfather of Soul," James Brown Leads The List

Funk music evolved from blues and soul, and is distinguished by its syncopated rhythms and melodic groove that brought the bass player to the forefront. Bootsy Collins became famous for providing the bass for "The Godfather of Soul," James Brown, and the legendary Larry Graham held down "the bottom" for Sly & The Family Stone. Graham revolutionized the bass, inventing the percussive "slap bass technique" which was adopted by many musicians and became a standard element of funk.

Here is a list of the "Greatest Funk Stars in Music History."

01
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James Brown

James Brown. Getty Images

"The Hardest Working Man in Show Business," James Brown, propelled the world of funk music with numerous classics, including "Make It Funky (Part 1, 2, 3, and 4)" in 1971 and 1972. His 1965 hit "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" is widely regarded as one of the first funk songs. Brown's illustrious career spanned six decades. He recorded 71 studio albums, 14 live albums, and an incredible 144 singles. "Mr. Dynamite" had 16 number one R&B hits and defined the genre of funk music. He was a dazzling performer and shrewd businessman who was one of the most influential artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. His many accolades include being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriter's Hall of Fame, the Kennedy Center Honors, Grammy and BET Lifetime Achievement Awards, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

02
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George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic

George Clinton and guitarist Garry Shider of Parliament-Funkadelic. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

George Clinton's nickname "Dr. Funkenstein" symbolizes his glorified status among the royalty of funk. As the leader of two of the greatest funk bands of all-time, Parliament, and Funkadelic, he was the general  of "Uncle Jam's Army." Clinton always kept it funky with his song titles, such as Parliament's "Tear The Roof Off The Sucker (Give Up The Funk)," and "P. Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)", both in 1976. Funkadelic lived up to its name with the classic "One Nation Under A Groove" in 1978, and "(Not Just Knee Deep" in 1979. Clinton took funk to another level with his 1982 solo hit which hit number one on the Billboard R&B chart, "Atomic Dog."

Beginning his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame career in 1955, Clinton continues to perform after more than 60 years in music.

03
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Sly & The Family Stone

Sly and the Family Stone. David Warner Ellis/Redferns

Formed in 1967 in San Francisco by Sylvester Stewart, Sly & The Family Stone was one of the most influential bands of the 1960s and 70s. The group was among the leaders of the "psychedelic soul" movement, combining R&B and rock into their own unique sound. Featuring innovative bass player Larry Graham, who became a very successful solo artist, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
 

04
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Rick James

Rick James. Paul Natkin/WireImage

"The King of Punk Funk," Rick James, was the greatest funk star of the 1970s and 80s with monster hits including "You and I," "Cold Blooded" and "Give It to Me Baby." He composed and produced hits for the Mary Jane Girls, The Temptations, Eddie Murphy and Smokey Robinson.James launched the career of Teena Marie, and was featured on their classic duet, "Fire and Desire." He also lived up to the name of his classic "Super Freak," serving two years in Folsom Prison after being convicted of assaulting and torturing two women in Los Angeles.

05
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Bootsy Collins

Bootsy Collins. David Livingston/Getty Images for NAMM

William "Bootsy" Collins is one of the greatest bass player of all-time, laying the groove for numerous classics recorded by James Brown, Parliament, and Funkadelic. He also reached the top of the Billboard R&B chart in 1978 with his solo hit, "Bootzilla."

06
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Prince

Prince. Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Prince closely studied funk legends James Brown and Sly & The Family Stone, and continued the legacy of funk by incorporating Sly's bass player Larry Graham into his own band. Prince's "Housequake" from his 1987 Sign o' the Times CD demonstrates that he knows how to get funky.

07
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Cameo

Larry Blackmon of Cameo. Ethan Miller/BET/Getty Images for BET

Cameo personified funk in the 1980s, recording eight gold and one platinum albums. In 1987, the band reached number one on the Billboard R&B singles chart with two consecutive funk classics, "Word Up!" and "Candy." 

08
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The Ohio Players

Leroy "Sugarfoot" Bonner of The Ohio Players. Colin Fuller/Redferns

The Ohio Players dominated the mid 1970s with four consecutive  number one albums on the Billboard R&B chart (including three platinum) Skin Tight (1974), Fire (1974), Honey (1975), and Contradiction (1976). The band also recorded five chart topping singles, including "Funky Worm" (1973), "Sweet Sticky Thing" (1975), "Love Rollercoaster" (1975).

09
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Kool & the Gang

Kool & The Gang. James Kriegsmann/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Kool & The Gang began in 1964 as a jazz instrumental band, and eventually evolved into a smooth R&B group. However, in the 1970s, they were the "funky" gang, as exemplified by song titles such as "Funky Man," "Funky Granny," and "Funky Stuff." Their classics "Jungle Boogie" from 1973, and "Hollywood Swinging" from 1974, would definitely be voted on first ballot into any Funk Hall of Fame. Kool & The Gang also introduced funk into Saturday Night Fever, winning a  Grammy for Album of the Year for contributing "Open Sesame" to the film's soundtrack.

10
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Roger Troutman and Zapp

Roger Troutman. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Roger Troutman was a funk genius, leading the group Zapp featuring his brothers Larry, Lester, and Terry in the 1980s. He pioneered the use of the vocoder, also known as the talk box, which is a device connected to a keyboard to create vocal effects. Zapp released the classic "More Bounce to the Ounce" in 1980, and "Computer Love" in 1986 featuring Charlie Wilson. Troutman was also featured on the iconic 1995 hip-hop hit "California Love" recorded by Tupac Shakur and Dr. Dre.

Edited by Ken Simmons on February 6, 2015