Dayton has often been referred to as “The Gem City.” But one thing people may not know is that the city has also been called the funk capital of the Midwest.
From September 12-14, the University of Dayton hosted Dayton’s very first Funk Symposium, which celebrated the history and revival of funk music in Ohio. The event included a tour of the Funk Music Hall of Fame & Exhibition Center in downtown Dayton, speaking panels of funk musicians from popular bands like Heatwave and The Ohio Players and even a celebratory dance party in Kennedy Union ballroom, which sold more than 400 tickets.
Many of the speakers mentioned how funk music, though not as relevant today as it once was, should still be recognized as a vital and significant style of music — it brought us what insiders call, the groove.
“I think the funk formula is still very much at the center of pop music. It just expresses itself in different ways,” keynote speaker and associate professor of African American Studies at University of California, Los Angeles, Scot Brown, said.
Brown presented in Sears Recital Hall Wednesday night and filled the room with energy, excitement and groovy funk tunes. He noted his joy that funk music was in a state of revival, and that the distinct sounds that make the style so special are appearing in popular music today.
“There’s interest in it now, so it’s hip again. I’m listening to guitar strokes come back on radio again!” Brown said enthusiastically.
Yet while funk is making a comeback, speakers at the Introductory Roundtable: Looking Back at Funk History in Dayton reminded people of the fact that in an earlier time, Dayton was the epicenter of the funk music movement — and the competition was tough.
“Back in the day…there were quite a few groups in Dayton, Ohio. Quite a few groups. Everybody was good so, you know, in order for us to do what we had to do we had to be good, too,” Keith Harrison said, speaking on his experience as a musician in funk bands The Ohio Players, the Parliament Funk-a-delics, and the Dazz Band, for which he won a Grammy Award in 1982.
The event included panelists Keith Harrison, longtime member of the Ohio Players and University alumni Clarence Willis ’72, and producer for The Real News Network, Ericka Blout.
Other speakers at the symposium included Jesse Rae, the Funk Ambassador to Scotland, Willis “Bing” Davis from The Center for the Study of African American Art and Culture in Dayton and an array of professors from universities around the country.
The symposium successfully brought students, faculty, and people from around the city of Dayton together in celebration of an art form that is considered purely unique to this city.
“There’s a lot of music out of Dayton, but I think music that has made the most impact in the entertainment world has been funk music,” Willis said.