Funk Brothers get star on Hollywood Walk of Fame

April 18, 2013 in Entertainment, Events, National Entertainment, News, Statewide News

Special to The Mississippi Link

HOLLYWOOD, Ca. – Grenada native and Motown superstar Eddie “Chank” Willis and Jack Ashford of the Funk Brothers were recently honored for their musical contributions with a star of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The Funk Brothers (Photo courtesy of Bob Freeman and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce)

“We are happy to honor The Funk Brothers on the Hollywood Walk of Fame!” stated Hollywood Chamber of Commerce President/CEO, Leron Gubler. “Many of us grew up with their amazing hit songs which they performed with some of the biggest stars of Motown!”

Gubler and guest speakers Stevie Wonder, Ray Parker Jr. and Mickey Stevenson helped The Funk Brothers unveil the 2,493rd Star in the Category of Recording at 7065 Hollywood Boulevard across from the Live Nation Building.

“We have placed The Funk Brothers star next to the stars of famed musicians Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Herbie Hancock,” said Ana Martinez, producer of the Walk of Fame.

Between the late 1950s and 1970s, the Funk Brothers was the heartbeat on nearly every major hit record from Motown’s Detroit era. This unsung group of musicians, formed by Barry Gordy, arranged and played on more No. 1 hit songs than any other band in history.

Their body of work makes them the greatest musical hit machine, and the most creative musical force in the history of popular music. The Funk Brothers created that unmistakable sound that launched a thousand hits. Listen to any hit song today to emerge from the Motown era, and you will hear the original, unique and signature riffs and rhythms created by the magic tunes of the Funk Brothers that became — and will be forever known as — the Motown sound.

While other musicians accompanied them from time to time, the Funk Brothers band was a 13-member group of highly-talented musicians comprised of:

  •  Joe Messina (b. Dec. 13, 1928)
  • Jack Ashford (b. May 18, 1934)
  • Eddie “Chank”  Willis (b. June 3, 1936 in Grenada, Miss.)
  • Richard “Pistol” Allen (d. June 30, 2002)
  • Bob Babbitt (d. July 16, 2012)
  • William “Benny” Benjamin (d. April 20, 1969)
  • Eddie “Bongo” Brown (b. Sept. 13, 1932 in Clarksdale, Miss. – d. Dec. 28, 1984) Johnny Griffith (d. Nov. 10, 2002)
  • Joe Hunter (d. Feb. 2, 2007)
  • James Jamerson (d. Aug. 2, 1983)
  • Uriel Jones (d. March 24, 2009)
  • Robert White (d. Oct. 27, 1994)
  • Earl Van Dyke (d. Sept. 18, 1992)

(Photo courtesy of The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce)

In the late 1950s in what was called “Hitsville USA” inside a tiny Detroit basement studio called the “snake pit” and under contract for Motown Records, the Funk Brothers spent days and countless nights arranging and recording the unshakeable and unmistakable foundation of music for many of Motown’s  legendary stars. For 20 years, they transformed that small basement in Detroit into a Motown hit factory by a world-class studio band, often paid only $10 per song; and where such greats as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells, and Smokey Robinson got their start as teenagers and were mentored by the Funk Brothers themselves.

This brilliant ensemble participated in developing, arranging and producing many of the legendary songs and No. 1 hit songs we still hear and enjoy today. The group performed with Diana Ross, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and The Pips, The Jackson Five, and many more. Some of their award-winning hits include: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing, Baby Love, Back in My Arms Again, Can I Get a Witness?, For Once in My Life, Going to a GO-GO,  The Tears of a Clown, What’s Going On, You are the Sunshine of My Life, Papa Was a Rolling Stone and many, many others.

In 2002, over 40 years after they played their first note and three decades since they were all together, the Funk Brothers reunited in Detroit to play their music and tell their unforgettable story, as part of the double-Grammy Award-winning documentary “Standing In The Shadows Of Motown.” The documentary recognized The Funk Brothers’ musical contributions and their unprecedented body of work. The Music Division of the Library of Congress presented a movie screening of “Standing In The Shadows Of Motown” as part of “I Hear America Singing,” an initiative to celebrate America’s rich musical heritage.