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Hallowed Sound

Foreword: Black music reflects the potential of our country

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William Thoren Photography, courtesy the Clinton family

As the National Museum of African American Music opens its doors, journalists from the USA TODAY Network explore the stories, places and people who helped make music what it is today in our expansive series, Hallowed Sound.

Funk is the sound of America.

Everything from R&B to country, from psychedelic to electronic music, all of it has funk. I think that’s the backdrop and the soundtrack of American music. All of our music is funky at its roots.

The American soundtrack sounds like our history. It sounds like music from the time of slavery, through Jim Crow and segregation, right up to what’s happening today, all of it filtered through church, strife, and hope. It reflects the potential of our country and our culture.

I think the Motown story is where it all came together, where everything culminated in a groove that was unbeatable. They showed just what Black music could do, and within a few years the whole world was playing R&B and blues music. The Beatles were covering the Isley Brothers, The Beach Boys and Ernest Tubb were playing Lead Belly, Elvis played Little Richard; Black music took over the world. 

We know this is not a story just about potential though. Music today is the same currency as land was during the Civil War and slavery, a means by which to control the distribution of wealth. Music, and its history, is getting ready to go through a rebirth of redefining ownership, especially in America.

Our music took over the world because of something inherent in it, something at the heart of Black music, born out of the Black experience in America. You all know what the funk feels like. It’s when everyone is together on the one, everyone is in that groove, everyone together on one beat, one frequency, one rhythm.

Motown had it back when they were doing it, but music of all genres can hit the funk, whether it’s country or techno or rock ‘n’ roll. And when all of us can trend at the same time to the same beat together, that’s One Nation Under A Groove.

I make it my business to be influenced by everything that’s available. I resonate with all of the music that I’ve ever heard. Everything from Louis Jordan up to Cardi B. Whatever kids are doing, I’m into that. Anything that gets on my nerves, I love it.

Because there’s funk in all of it. And for the first time, the funk is gonna have a home. At the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, the untold story of Black music’s impact on the American soundtrack will be told for the first time. Nashville has such deep musical roots all around the funk, it couldn’t be in a better place.

Join me on this journey exploring Black music, its stories, and how it shaped our country and our world. With the groove our only guide, nothin’ can stop us now.

George Clinton, band leader of the iconic funk group Parliament-Funkadelic, has made genre-blurring music ranging from doo-wop to hip-hop. He has won a Grammy, a Dove Award and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

Explore Hallowed Sound

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