The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Funk Music
Author: Katie Kelley
Usually, we’d invite you to sit down and get comfortable before diving into one of our guides. But in the case of funk music, we sincerely hope you’re standing.
Funk music is guaranteed to get you dancing. But the beat isn’t the only part that’ll bring you to your feet.
Funk music’s unreplicable groove was founded in rich cultural history—inspiring people to come together, create, unite, and most importantly, celebrate despite hard times.
By the end of this guide to funk music, you’re not just going to know the definition of funk. You’ll be leaping out of your seat to share the power of funk music with everyone you know. (Warning: A spontaneous dance party is likely to ensue.)
What is Funk Music?
Funk is a popular music genre that emerged from the Black-American community in the 1960s from jazz, gospel, soul, Black rock, and R&B influences.
Funk music is faithful to the rhythm like its preceding genres, but it does one thing differently. Instead of swinging the rhythm, or emphasizing beats two and four, funk music focuses on beat one.
If you didn’t major in Music Theory, the difference looks like this:
This emphasis on “the one,” as it’s known, charged the music with a power that was unparalleled to anything else in the 60s—and people took notice.
How Funk Gets its Groove
The one isn’t the only noteworthy element of funk music. There are a few distinctions that formulate its undeniable groove. They may seem subtle, but once you hear them, you won’t unhear them—nor will you want to:
The History of Funk Music
Aside from its innovative musical tendencies, the groove of funk music is underpinned by a history unlike any other genre. The beat of funk took stride with the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and helped motivate millions of people toward positive change.
In the U.S. in the 60s, racial oppression was at large and the Civil Rights Movement was at its height, with activists like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks at the helm of the fight against racial segregation and social injustice.
At the time, jazz and R&B were the most popular genres in the Black community. Then, one musician took the stage and changed the game forever: James Brown.
James Brown is known as The Grandfather of Funk. He started in soul, but he invented funk music. His well-known song, “Cold Sweat,” released in 1967, is credited as the first-ever funk song. Brown was an innovator, a leader, and a meticulous master of music.
Once Brown introduced the concept of funk music, other artists followed. Arenas danced, charts topped, and the genre soared. Funk became synonymous with cool, setting the foundation of an entire cultural movement through the 1970s.
Celebrating Black Culture
As funk music gained popularity, so did Brown’s reputation. During the Civil Rights Movement, Brown stood alongside leaders like MLK Jr. to fight for justice and use his influence to spark change.
After the assassination of MLK Jr., the Black community—and the world—mourned the loss of a north star. The musician responded by producing the song “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” to reignite the community with hope, self-love, and empowerment.
This, along with numerous other examples, stamped funk music with the honorable emblem of positivity, joy, celebration, and hope in the face of oppression. Funk music invited everyone to the party, uniting people with a simple, yet abundantly powerful beat.
The Major Influences of Funk Music
You simply can’t discuss funk music without mentioning James Brown. Brown laid the brickwork for other artists to build even more magic, including:
The Evolution of Funk Music
We could sit (or stand) for hours around a record player and weave through some of the best funk albums of all time. (And if you plan on doing that, can we come?)
Until then, here’s a look from a 10,000-foot view of the evolution of funk music through the decades:
Funk Music Today
Today, funk music is immortally alive and well. It’s resurged in recent years in its purest form, and bits and pieces of its DNA run deep through popular music worldwide.
Funk’s Influence on Other Genres
A few genres carried over especially discernable notes from funk music. Listen closely to your favorite dance-party hit, and you just might find your feet tapping to that famous one beat or your arms waving syncopated shapes in the air like they just don’t care. Specifically, you’ll hear it echoing in genres like:
Get in the Funk Groove with Victrola
Whether you’re looking for classic funk sounds of the 1960s, yearning for the sweet fusions of funk rock, or chasing after the shiny new funk of today, we’ve got you covered, sealed, and shipped at Victrola.
Enter our record store and hear James Brown in a pristine live recording in Dallas in 1968. Open your mind to George Clinton’s far-out world in Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain. Catch a train to Grovetown with Dumpstaphunk’s latest release, Where Do We Go From Here.
We got the funk—and you’ve got to have it.
Songwriters Hall of Fame. The Godfather of Soul.
MasterClass. Funk Music Guide: Understanding Funk Music.
MasterClass. All About Disco: Inside the History and Influence of Disco Music.
Inside Pulse. The Importance Of Funk Music For Art And Pop Culture. https://insidepulse.com/2021/12/07/the-importance-of-funk-music-for-art-and-pop-culture/
MN2s. FOUNDATIONS OF FUNK: THE BIRTH OF A GENRE. https://mn2s.com/news/features/funk-foundations/
Funk N'Finity. The Story of Funk One Nation under a Groove. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rZagOjCnKQ