The National Museum of African American Music is wrapping up Black Music Month by celebrating legendary musicians and industry giants during the sixth annual Celebration of Legends Gala at Music City Center. The annual event celebrates African American music and the trailblazers that have made an impact and helped to craft America’s soundtrack. This year’s honorees of the “Rhapsody & Rhythm” awards include the P-Funk Godfather George Clinton, the Queen of Disco, Gloria Gaynor, and legendary rapper Doug E. Fresh.
One of the architects of a different brand of funk music, and the mastermind behind the bands Parliament and Funkadelic, George Clinton has made his mark on the soundtrack of our lives. He started his career with the Parliaments, a barbershop doo-wop ensemble, and landed a hit with “I Wanna Testify” in 1967. In an effort to separate himself from the Motown sound, Clinton, influenced by the psychedelic movement, began experimenting with various sounds and melodies. By the early 1970s he resurrected the group Parliament and from that birthed the group Funkadelic. The groups paved the way for funk groups to follow in their footsteps. In 1978-1979, the groups racked up four Number One R&B hits: “Flash Light,” “One Nation Under a Groove,” Aqua Boogie” and “(Not Just) Knee Deep.”
Parliament and Funkadelic had 40 hit RB singles. On stage accompanied by the mothership, outrageous costumes and marathon sets, the groups were known for their concerts. In the 80s, Clinton embarked on a solo career, releasing Computer Games with the number one hit single, “Atomic Dog.”
He signed with Prince’s Paisley Park label and began experimenting with the urban hip hop music scene. He is recognized as the godfather of modern urban music, as his music samples have appeared on albums by Outkast, Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott, and more. In 1996, Clinton released the solo album The Awesome Power of a Fully Operational Mothership, which reunited him with Bernie Worrell and Bootsy Collins. In 1997, Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Guitar Center’s Hollywood Rock Walk, and earned a Lifetime Achievement Award at the NAACP Image Awards.
Hailed as the Queen of Disco, Gloria Gaynor has done more than just survive, the singer provided an anthem that helps anyone get through the toughest of times. Forty years ago, in 1979, Gaynor released her trademark single, “I Will Survive,” and won a Grammy in 1980 in the Best Disco Recording category, ironically the only year that disco was recognized.
“‘I Will Survive’ uplifts, empowers, inspires, and encourages people, and it’s become the core of my purpose,” Gaynor said in her bio. “It’s a great honor to have that song because I think it’s my responsibility to share that message as broadly and as widely as I possibly can — to bring that hope, and encouragement, and empowerment to people. I think that what this song has done is brought me the notoriety that gives me a good platform, so people will listen to what else I have to say.”
In 1978, Gaynor fell backwards over a stage monitor at the Beacon Theater and suffered a spinal injury, paralyzed from the waist down. She recorded the single while in a back brace, which makes the song even more powerful because of her own strength and resilience. Gaynor later rededicated herself to God in the early 80s. Most recently, Gaynor released a new gospel album earlier this month, Testimony, which debuted on the top five of the top gospel albums charts.
Doug E. Fresh
The Original Human Beatbox Doug E. Fresh has been entertaining audiences for 30 years. When Fresh is around, you don’t always need a musical backing track, because he can captivate an audience with his beatboxing art form, where he simulates the sound of drums and other musical instruments. By 1985, Doug E. Fresh had become one of hip hops biggest stars with the success of classic songs like “The Show,” and “La Di Da Di,” recorded with his Get Fresh Crew.
“La Di Da Di” is the fifth most sampled song in the history of music, proving that hip hop is a global force to be reckoned with.
In the late 2000s, the younger generation learned just how Fresh has influenced generations with the 2009 breakout hit, “Teach Me How to Dougie,” by Cali Swag District. The song spawned an international dance craze called “The Dougie” which was an ode to the moves Fresh created in the 80s.
He is a Hip-Hop Hall of Fame inductee, BET Hip Hop Awards Icon honoree, and received the Source Awards’ Lifetime Achievement honor. He is also the first rapped booked to perform in Africa and the first to perform at the United Nations for the United Nations Day Concert.
“I always lived my life saying I don’t want to be financially rich and spiritually bankrupt,” he says. “So most of my decisions lean toward what’s better for the spiritual growth of others and for myself, and toward creating the best celebrations of life. When I make music, I’ve always been about trying to elevate the culture. Hip-hop is supposed to uplift, to educate people on a higher level, and to make change,” said Fresh in his bio.
Each of the honorees has contributed to the music industry and beyond cementing their place in music history. The proceeds from this event support the museum’s educational and community programs for all ages.