|The Flashlight||"She Funk"
by Melissa A. Weber
|(l.to r.) Debbie Wright, Jeannette Washington, Lynn Mabry, Dawn Silva, and George Clinton take it to the people in 1977.|
Though they worked equally as hard as the rest of the Funk Mob, it's virtually impossible to find them listed in the popular music history books alongside their fellow bandmates. And many were particularly hurt to know that no woman was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the rest of Parliament Funkadelic. At least Junie Morrison acknowledged their importance and contributions to the Funk during the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. And here we will salute their acheivements with a chronicle of the history of women in P-Funk.
You can call it "She Funk."
EARLY DAYS, 1960-1970
This is the period that we had the toughest time researching, but the most integral women of this period are Ruth Copeland and Pat Lewis.
Lewis was a key vocalist during the early Parliaments period, and she is
also Tracey "Treylewd" Lewis' mother.
Ruth Copeland released albums in 1970 and 1971 for Invictus with Funkadelic as the backing band (Self Portrait and I Am What I Am). She also co-wrote Parliament songs such as "Breakdown" and "Come in Out of the Rain."
EARLY PARLIAMENT-FUNKADELIC, 1970-1974
Key vocalists of this time include Dianne Brooks (who also sang with Isaac Hayes' Hot, Buttered and Soul), and Mallia Franklin and Debbie Wright whose vocals go uncredited on classics like Standing On the Verge of Getting it On and Cosmic Slop, and credited on Chocolate City.
In the meantime, Mallia makes funk history when she introduces George Clinton to the House Guests' William "Bootsy" Collins when they open for Funkadelic in Detroit.
And in 1972, artist Kathy Abel creates a lyric book to accompany Funkadelic's America Eats Its Young. The book, which features her artwork, includes the original draft of the official Funkadelic logo that is still being used today.
MIDDLE PARLIAMENT-FUNKADELIC, 1975-1976
Mallia Franklin and Debbie Wright still provide the bulk of female vocals, while the voices of Taka Boom (Chaka Khan's sister) and Jeannette Washington are introduced. When the Mothership is first summoned to bring the Funk to the masses, Jeannette and Debbie are on board and are the first regular touring ladies of P-Funk.
A new vocalist comes on in 1976, former Friends of Distinction and Earth Wind and Fire member Jessica Cleaves. She frightfully adds her vocals to the weird title track of Funkadelic's Tales of Kidd Funkadelic.
BOOTSY'S RUBBER BAND, 1976
The first and original incarnation of Bootsy's Rubber Band features vocalist Lesyln Bailey. Bailey co-writes and provides lead vocals for "Love Vibes," which is featured on Stretchin' Out in Bootsy's Rubber Band, the group's first album from 1976. She does a few tour dates, but drops from sight.
Years later, Bootsy forms a girl group called Godmoma (Carolyn Miles, Cynthia Girty, and Arnenita Walker) who sing backup for his Ultra Wave album in 1980, and release their own Godmoma Here in 1981 for Elektra.
THE "QUEEN OF FUNK"
Mallia Franklin has been bestowed with this honor due to the fact that not only is she a "bad" singer, but also because she hooked George Clinton up with Bootsy for the first time. But few people know that she also introduced George to ex-Ohio Player Junie Morrison (who's distinct sound is responsible for songs like "Knee Deep" and "One Nation Under a Groove").
In the meantime, the Mothership is flying high and P-Funk tours are huge events. George decides to build a stable of artists, sort of like Berry Gordy's "family" of groups at Motown. He proposes two girl groups, one of which already includes Debbie Wright. George catches a performance of Mallia's in Los Angeles along with Casablanca president Neil Bogart who is instantly interested in having her on the label. George gives Mallia the option to choose which of the two girl groups she wants to join. She opts to join with her old friend Debbie from Detroit as well as Jeannette Washington. The group is called Parlet.
Parlet (pronounced "par-lette," not "par-lay") is the self-proclaimed louder and wilder of the two P-Funk girl groups. Debbie, Mallia, and Jeannette were the ones that everyone bet on to be the more successful of the two groups. (You can even see proof of this in the fact that George hires artist Shusei Nagaoka to draw a first-rate album cover of the girls in a Mothership setting for their debut album Pleasure Principle, whereas the Brides of Funkenstein get a very generic cover.)
George convinces Casablanca to put out lots of money to promote Pleasure Principle, but his dear friend Debbie has a bad drug reaction and is in no condition to tour. She has to drop out of Parlet. George is hurt and his support for Parlet never reaches the pinnacle that it did for Pleasure Principle again.
Shirley Hayden is brought in to replace Debbie and they open for P-Funk on tour for a while. Their sets are wilder than the Brides' performances would later be. Jeannette develops a reputation for jumping off the stage during performances in order to sing and party with the audience. Mallia leaves in 1979 to help form Sterling Silver Starship with then-husband and Parlet bassist Donnie Sterling. Shirley Hayden replaces Mallia halfway through the recording of their second album Invasion of the Bootsy Snatchers (1979). (It's Mallia's vocals you hear on "No Rump to Bump," "Ridin' High," and "Huff and Puff," not Shirley's.)
Parlet releases one last album, Play Me or Trade Me, in 1980, but the ladies break up, frustrated with their lack of support.
BRIDES OF FUNKENSTEIN - Part I, 1978
This P-Funk girl group that was predicted to not do as well as Parlet wound up doing just the opposite.
The original Brides of Funkenstein are Lynn Mabry and Dawn Silva, two vocalists who were background singers for Sly and the Family Stone in the mid-70s. George first meets them while Sly is opening for P-Funk. He's so impressed with their singing that he offers them a job with P-Funk. Sly finds out and fires them, making it that much easier for Dawn and Lynn to join with George and the Funk Mob.
Their first recorded vocal contributions to P-Funk are on Parliament's Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome (1978), and they are also featured prominently on Eddie Hazel's Game, Dames, and Guitar Thangs (1977). The next year, their debut album Funk or Walk is released. With the help of their hit single "Disco to Go," the album goes gold. They begin touring with P-Funk for the "One Nation Under a Groove" tour. But Lynn drops out during 1979's "Motor Booty Affair" tour due to financial disputes.
THE BRIDESMAIDS, 1979
During the "Motor Booty Affair" tour, three vocalists are utilized to give singing support to both the Brides and P-Funk during their sets. They are known as the Bridesmaids and include Sheila Horne, Jeannette "Mackie" McGruder (an Atlantic records session vocalist), and Marian "Babs" Stewart. Babs leaves the Bridesmaids around the same time Lynn leaves the Brides, so both groups join together and the Brides of Funkenstein become a trio.
BRIDES OF FUNKENSTEIN - Part II, 1979-1980
The second version of the Brides includes Dawn, Sheila, and Mackie. They release Never Buy Texas From a Cowboy (1979) to great critical acclaim, but only modest commercial success.
The group begins recording a never-released third album entitled The Shadow on the Wall Shaped Like the Hat You Wore. Financial and creative disputes break the group up. Sheila becomes an original Mary Jane Girl, singing background for Rick James during his 1981 tour, and also sings on albums by Was Not Was and Michael Henderson. Lynn returns briefly for the Brides' "new wave" phase (without Mackie and Sheila) before the group breaks up for good.
LATE PARLIAMENT-FUNKADELIC, 1977-1981
All of the aforementioned women provide vocals on every P-Funk album recorded during this period. Some new voices include Patty Walker, Gwen Dozier (Parlet), and Linda Brown Shider (Garry's wife), also a key song co-writer.
In 1979, Jessica Cleaves makes more funk history with her trademark operatic vocals on Funkadelic's "(not just) Knee Deep."
In a different aspect of P-Funk, April Wildflower creates art alongside Pedro Bell for several of this period's Funkadelic album covers. She is also in charge of Bootsy's Rubber Fan Club.
P-FUNK ALL-STARS - Part I, 1982-1989
Sheila Washington (formerly Sheila Horne) co-writes some of this period's best songs including George Clinton's "Do Fries Go With that Shake" (1986). New and important voices include Sandra Feva, Crystal Gaynor, Vanessa Williams (yes, it's the same one), Patti Curry, and Debra Barsha.
P-FUNK ALL-STARS - Part II, 1990-present
White rapper Nicole Tindell tours with the Funk Mob briefly during the 1994 Lollapalooza tour, and bassist Starr Cullars is one of the few female musicians to tour with P-Funk.
Belita Woods, a Detroit-based vocalist, is recruited by George and she adds a much-needed female element to the live shows that hasn't been there since the "Late Parliament-Funkadelic" and "early P-Funk All-Stars" years.
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
Last, but certainly not least, we have to salute the women who are on the business side of things. In the past, women like Nina Hoover, Charlotte Morgan, Debra Lett, and Leslie Vocino helped to run the organization. And today, we have women such as Barbarella Bishop, Angela Gilliam, Dana Pennington, Theressa Corbitt, and Marcy G. to thank.