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Groove Theory - The Blues Foundation of Funk

Groove Theory

The Blues Foundation of Funk

By Tony Bolden
Series: American Made Music Series

Hardcover : 9781496830524, 280 pages, 9 b&w illustrations, October 2020
Paperback : 9781496830609, 280 pages, 9 b&w illustrations, October 2020

The first in-depth intellectual history of funk music and its growth out of the blues tradition


Tony Bolden presents an innovative history of funk music focused on the performers, regarding them as intellectuals who fashioned a new aesthetic. Utilizing musicology, literary studies, performance studies, and African American intellectual history, Bolden explores what it means for music, or any cultural artifact, to be funky. Multitudes of African American musicians and dancers created aesthetic frameworks with artistic principles and cultural politics that proved transformative. Bolden approaches the study of funk and black musicians by examining aesthetics, poetics, cultural history, and intellectual history. The study traces the concept of funk from early blues culture to a metamorphosis into a full-fledged artistic framework and a named musical genre in the 1970s, and thereby Bolden presents an alternative reading of the blues tradition.

In part one of this two-part book, Bolden undertakes a theoretical examination of the development of funk and the historical conditions in which black artists reimagined their music. In part two, he provides historical and biographical studies of key funk artists, all of whom transfigured elements of blues tradition into new styles and visions.

Funk artists, like their blues relatives, tended to contest and contextualize racialized notions of blackness, sexualized notions of gender, and bourgeois notions of artistic value. Funk artists displayed contempt for the status quo and conveyed alternative stylistic concepts and social perspectives through multimedia expression. Bolden argues that on this road to cultural recognition, funk accentuated many of the qualities of black expression that had been stigmatized throughout much of American history.


"Dr. Tony Bolden successfully endeavors to reconnect funk music with its blues roots in a thorough examination of the history, evolution, societal impact, and importance of funk as a continuous commentary on society."


"In Groove Theory, Tony Bolden takes his readers 'to the bridge and drops them off into some funk.' Through songs, literary fiction, interviews, memoirs, and provocative case studies on Sly Stone, Chaka Khan, Gil Scott-Heron, and the inimitable Betty Davis, Bolden identifies funk’s fundamental essence as grounded in the blues. His interdisciplinary riffs on the musicians, histories, and social contexts that led to the funk genre brilliantly address the reasons this musical style is considered a musical lingua franca of the pop world. As a songwriter said, ‘funk not only moves, it can remove—dig?’ Groove Theory does both and with style."

- Guthrie P. Ramsey Jr., author of Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop and The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop

"In a holistic critique of the meanings of funk and the multiple black vernacular expressions that collectively have shaped the funk aesthetic, Tony Bolden's Groove Theory: The Blues Foundation of Funk takes readers on a cultural and historical journey. Using vivid illustrations of music making for over four centuries—beginning with African ritualized practices, their manifestations as the impulse and emotive character of both spirituals and blues that carried over into jazz and gospel—Bolden identifies specific cultural and musical traditions as progenitors of funk in its development as a distinctive musical genre. This indispensable monograph undoubtedly will influence new approaches to the study of funk."

- Portia K. Maultsby, coeditor of Issues in African American Music: Power, Gender, Race, Representation and African American Music: An Introduction, Second Edition

"For many years Tony Bolden has been evangelizing a theology that considers funk as an aesthetical practice, rather than simply a musical genre. Groove Theory is his fully realized exegesis of the interconnectedness of blues, funk, black literary practices, and identity politics. This book is an eloquent and illuminating study that employs a more expansive theoretical and historical lens than what has been advanced through funk historiography. It is timely and much-needed work as it reminds us of how black folks have continually used language, rhythm, and sound to advance epistemologies that have been central to their survival in America."

- Tammy L. Kernodle, professor of musicology, Miami University in Ohio

"Groove Theory is an essential addition to scholarship on funk. Tony Bolden does important work here, replacing the vague musical definitions that too often accompany his subject with deeply researched histories and carefully analyzed sonic descriptions. Despite Bolden’s precision and knowledge, he never freezes this vital music in amber, but helps us to appreciate its cultural power anew. Chapter after chapter he leads the reader to view famous figures like Chaka Khan in a whole new light, while revealing fresh insights into lesser-known artists like Betty Davis. This is the book on funk we have all been waiting for, so put a glide in your stride, a dip in your hip, and come on up to the Mothership!"

- Nate Sloan, assistant professor of musicology, University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, and coauthor of Switched on Pop: How Popular Music Works and Why It Matters

"[T]hrough detailed analysis of recorded performances by a range of funk artists, backed by skillful incorporation of previous funk scholarship, Bolden frames an exceptional, substantive, and convincing exposition of a blues-based funk epistemology in Groove Theory."

- Phyllis M. May-Machunda, The Journal of African American History