Groove Theory: The Blues Foundation of Funk (University Press of Mississippi, 2020) by Tony Bolden, an Associate Professor of African and African American Studies at the University of Kansas, and author of Afro-Blue: Improvisation in African American Poetry and Culture (University of Illinois Press, 2003), is a history of funk artists such as George Clinton who developed a new aesthetic style through the Black Arts Era of the 1960s and 1970s. Bolden defines these artists such as Clinton as Gil Scot Heron of the band The Last Poets as “organic intellectuals” who helped fashion a new Black aesthetic in their development of funk music and culture. The book has an “Introduction” section, six concise chapters, including an extensive notes section and selected bibliography.
Bolden’s main premise is that “blues and funk are not just musical forms; they are interrelated concepts. And blues is “like the nucleus” of rock as well as rhythm and blues, which includes soul and funk” (4). In many respects, the text is a history of the variant interrelated Black vernacular forms that flourished during the twentieth century that overlap and are intermingled within the funk aesthetic. Groove Theory is interdisciplinary in scope in that it engages a broad spectrum of academic disciplines including history, literary studies, and musicology to advance an argument about the meaning, style, and structure of funk as type of aesthetical practice in the history of African Americans. Bolden uses a myriad of sources such as poetry, literature, memoirs, interviews, and song lyrics to support his analysis.
The first part of the book contains three chapters that discusses both the historical and theoretical foundations of funk as a genre of music and cultural style. Chapter One titled “Groove Theory: Liner Notes on Funk Aesthetics” discusses how the funk “operates as a distinct form of black vernacular epistemology” and the Chapter Two “Blue Funk: The Ugly Beauty of Stank” focuses on the development of funk as an idea in the blues era. The last chapter in this part of the text Chapter Three “Sly Stone and the Gospel of Funk” concerns the impact of Sly Stone on the development of the funk sound.
Part two of Groove Theory contains three chapters that consider the relationship between blue funk and the black fantastic. This section also brings into the discussion the role of women in the development of the funk genre. In Chapter Four, Chaka Khan’s impact on funk music and culture while the following Chapter Five “Funky Bluesology: Gil Scott Heron As Black Organic Intellectual” considers the role of Heron in the advancement of the funk aesthetic. The final chapter “The Kinkiness of Turquoise: Betty Davis’s Liberated Funk-Rock” concerns the legacy of Betty Davis the famed Black woman rocker of the funk era. Bolden ends his text with an “Outro” that considers the lasting impact of funk music on American music culture.
Hettie V. Williams Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of African American history in the Department of History and Anthropology at Monmouth University where she teaches courses in African American history and U.S. history. She has published book chapters, essays, and edited/authored five books. Her latest publications include Bury My Heart in a Free Land: Black Women Intellectuals in Modern U.S. History (Praeger, 2017) and, with Dr. G. Reginald Daniel, professor of historical sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Race and the Obama Phenomenon: The Vision of a More Perfect Multiracial Union (University Press of Mississippi 2014). Follow me on twitter: @DrHettie2017
Hettie V. Williams Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of African American history in the Department of History and Anthropology at Monmouth University where she teaches courses in African American history and U.S. history.