Bach, Beethoven and Brown

by Roy “Futureman” Wooten



With the recent passing of Prince, I think it should be noted that he was a Rock & Roll meets Funk music protégé of two of the most influential artists of any popular music…Little Richard and James Brown.

Little Richard’s showmanship and hard rocking brand of boogie woogie jazz lead to the birth of Rock and Roll.  James Brown’s own unique showmanship and blend of the black church, blues and soulful jazz connections led to the birth of an ultra-new, rhythmically-sophisticated, dance music called “Funk.”


Little Richard

Prince mastered both of their “Primitivism” styles.  With his own touch of personal genius, Prince successfully blended Little Richards boogie woogie 2 count “Primitivism” called Rock & Roll and James Brown’s contagious back beat fueled jazz, Gospel and New (primitivism) Soul Music called funk.

Little Richard and Prince

Little Richard and Prince

From the two foundations of Little Richard and James Brown comes all manner of music stars with tremendous music & stage performances; from artists such as Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Jackson 5, Michael Jackson & Prince, to new African American producers and superstars such as Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Pharrell, Quest Love, The Roots, Bruno Mars, Kendrick Lamar, Janet Jackson, Beyoncé and a host of others that also includes the recent  hip hop Broadway musical sensation called “Hamilton.”

James Brown dancing funk.

James Brown dancing funk.

The funky rhythms of James Brown have influenced all of popular music and continues to be “sampled” and used in the beats of present day popular hits including the beats that drive hip hop.” Both “Little Richard” and James Brown captured the fundamental spirit of musical “Primitivism” and sophistication that was shaped by the Black church, blues, jazz and the black experience.

Primitivism underscores the appreciation for black culture that crosses the trajectory from Art, to classical music and popular music.  The interview between James Brown and a cutting edge classical conductor named Michael Tilson Thomas, sheds modern light on the continuing love affair between black music, culture and the classical arts.

Classical Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas did an extensive and unprecedented interview with James Brown that was recorded at Brown’s home in Georgia.  During the interview, Thomas shared a story, that revealed that while he and other students were studying Boulez, Stravinsky and other composers on the leading edge of Classical music, they were also listening to the music of James Brown.

Prince dancing funk.

Prince dancing funk.

The conductor (Michael T. Thomas) said that one day while he was driving in LA, a song called “Cold Sweat” by James Brown came on the radio, which introduced him to the music of James Brown and forever changed his views about how to conduct and perform the music of Boulez, Stravinsky and others. Thomas was moved by the level of energy, precision, sense of time, and musical angularity that gave him and other young conductors a deeper insight into a new way to realize the classical music they were studying.

0226103455The rhythmic innovations of Stravinsky, reflect his love for the fascinating rhythms coming from American jazz, blues and the music of James Brown. The book “African Rhythm and African Sensibility” by John Miller Chernoff, tells the story of Hal Neely, concerning Igor Stravinsky and his deep admiration for James Brown.

Hal Neely was the former president of King Records, which was the most important record label in African American music for over twenty years.

The Author of the book (John Miller Chernoff) spent ten years studying African drumming and his research represents a proud link in the field of ethno-musicology that was started by composer Bela Bartok.

On page 199, of Chernoff’s book, it says that Stravinsky, answered an interviewer’s question about his favorite composers, by saying that they were the three B’s.  The composer then clarified that the three B’s represented Bach, Beethoven and Brown… James Brown… and emphasized that Brown was composing a true American music with a great American heritage and should be considered one of the greatest composers of all time.

Jimi Hendrix and Prince

Jimi Hendrix and Prince

Stravinsky’s appreciation for the sophistication and “Primitivism” of James Brown mirrored Picasso’s appreciation for African art.   Leonardo da Vinci: said that ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’.

As I end this blog, I want to underscore that “primitivism” does not mean simple simplicity but represents an economy of creativity that can raise anything to an art form.  In the art of fighting, the act of confrontation is raised to an art form by a creative economy of technique and skill.

Thus Primitivism in the arts and music was also respected as a creative sophistication of simple techniques and skills. . .

“Primitivism” is inspired from an INDIGENOUS style
of creativity and economy


that amplifies the meaning behind
the simple power of Rock & Roll,


that amplifies the meaning behind
the swing that moves to jazz,


that amplifies the meaning behind
the rhythm that moves Hip Hop,


that amplifies the meaning behind
the emotion that lifts the Black Church, 


and amplifies the meaning behind the influence of “Primitivism”
and the soul that shines through the power of Black music.


In my next blog I want reflect on Stravinsky, the African Inspired Ebony Concerto…

2017 My Music Matters: A Celebration of Legends Luncheon

June 02, 2017

  The Legends Luncheon celebrates music, specifically the impact that African Americans have made on American musical culture. This concept...

MET Summer Academy

June 12, 2017

Registration Information Registration and Fee Deadline: June 5, 2017 Early Bird – $50 off if you register by April 15,...

The National Museum of African American Music will stand as an international iconic cultural museum dedicated to the vast contributions African Americans have made in music.


Administrative Offices

618 Church St, Suite 130
Nashville, TN 37219
(615) 301-8724

metro artsETFLogo_thumbTNARTS_PrimaryLogoCommunityFoundation-01