When thinking about funk music we don’t always think about the role that women played in its evolution. However, from the very beginning, women were not only supportive of funk, but many were instrumental in the movement.
Women started making their appearance in the funk genre in the early ’60s and ’70s. They saw and used funk music’s platform as an opportunity to talk about their social issues, while at the same time declaring their right to be free of social barriers if they so chose. This was a time of change.
These women of funk reached thousands, effectively planting the seed and declaring without hesitation that they had arrived. Let’s face it, these were not your average women. They had the courage and strength needed to play in a world that was heavily male dominated. They had a lot to say, and they said it with as much vigor as their male counterparts, boldly sharing their thoughts around life, love, pain, desire, and independence.
Though a tough road to travel, these women understood the value of their contribution and took seriously their status as role models and achievers. They used the power of the music to speak freely for themselves and for other women who began to follow and join them in the movement.
Certainly, during the early funk years some of their male counterparts were not always as supportive. Some underestimated, did not understand or appreciate the strength, courage or strong determination of women who at times went against all odds, to forge a path in a new genre of music.
One of the funkiest women pioneers was Betty Davis, wife of the late Jazz Miles Davis, trumpeter, bandleader and composer. When given the opportunity to express herself, Betty pushed all kinds of buttons! With her raw heavy beats and deep driving bass lines, she took every opportunity to express creative freedom in the music she wrote, the clothing she wore, and the controversial messages she delivered in her songs. She was a woman and unapologetically funk.
As the ’70s came to an end, bands like Brides of Funkenstein and other female acts like Melba Moore, Patti Labelle, Candi Stanton, Sharon Jones, Chaka Kahn, and Teena Marie, rose to the top of a genre once dominated by men.
By the time the ’80s rolled in, women like Patrice Rushen, Jody Wately, Donna Summer, and girl groups like A Taste of Honey, The Kylmaxx Band, and The Mary Jane Girls continued to make headway.
While the playing field was not always equal, these women were busy writing and producing hit songs, earning them wider audiences and larger followings.
Though there hasn’t been a lot written about these trailblazers, one thing is sure; their force was one to be reckoned with, garnering them much respect in a genre that few thought they would survive.
I know they had a huge impact on me because as a young girl I could see myself in them. They inspired me. They walked the walk, and talked the talk.
Therefore, I encourage you to do a little research on these and other amazing women in funk. In my opinion, they belong equally, alongside their male counterparts, and have secured their rightful place in the “Land of Funk.”