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Play It Forward: George Clinton Is Everyone's Hype Man

With his band Parliament Funkadelic, George Clinton paved the way for generations of free-spirited musicians who came after him.
Erika Goldring
Getty Images
With his band Parliament Funkadelic, George Clinton paved the way for generations of free-spirited musicians who came after him.

On the last episode of Play It Forward, our series in which artists tell us about their own music and the musicians who inspire them, All Things Considered spoke with Angel Bat Dawid, the improvisational musician from Chicago. She told us about her connection to the pioneer of funk: George Clinton.

"George Clinton always did his own thing and those have always been the musicians that I have looked up to the most," she said. Dawid wanted to tell him that he was a great inspiration. "You showed me how to be myself. I'm strong in my individuality because of you. You're one of the most ingenious musicians, composers of our lifetime."

Clinton says he got butterflies hearing that praise.

"I'm old as hell, but I still feel good when you hear somebody that appreciates you with that kind of soul in their voice," he says.

Clinton spoke to NPR's All Things Considered about the longevity and enduring influence of his band, Parliament Funkadelic, on being a hype man for other musicians and an artist he's grateful for: opera singer and funk keyboardist Constance Hauman. Listen in the player above and read on for highlights from the interview.

Interview Highlights

On creating a legacy that would last across generations

"That was our intent. We started out back in the '50s and early '60s, when stuff like West Side Story was out and Broadway-type songs. So I always had that theory in my head that I didn't want to just be a singing group of musicians, I wanted to be a thang. That's why we called it Parliafunkadelicment Thang. We wanted to be theatrical so it'd last for years, not just for the Top 10. That's what I aimed it for, to last so long. That gave us a lot of room – we didn't have to be whatever the Top 40 was doing, but then again, we could do that if we felt like doing it."

On doing his own thing, even when it was difficult

"[It was difficult] in the early '60s, because we changed so radically with Funkadelic and realized that Cream, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and all of that was coming. Rock and roll was getting ready to take over, and that sounded like the music my mother used to listen to, just played loud.

"[We were] more bluesy. We just named the group Funkadelic and went to [the] rock and roll-psychedelic era [with] Free Your Mind ... and Your Ass Will Follow. And it worked out pretty good."

On hearing the influence of P-Funk in the music of today

"[I hear it in] the nerve of certain people to do their own thing. You can feel it. Most of the time it's the nerve — for them to do whatever they're doing.

"That is funk. Funk is whatever it needs to be to give you that freedom, to let go and try whatever you're doing. You're being funky when you just let yourself go and freestyle, or whatever you want to call it."

On bringing out the best in people as an arranger and producer

"I push whatever it is they're doing. I give them that gratification, what you looking for when you're playing, that hypemen give you. Your ego is the better performer than you, most of the time. That's the time you can really use it. It's a hard time to put him back where he belong after that, but you need it in the studio, on stage, in performance — or, at least, I do.

"I just feed off of people appreciating and responding. And so when I see somebody's playing a solo, I take the mic — even though it's going to drive the engineer crazy — and go put it on the speaker. It's loud, but that's the energy. The person usually ends up playing 10 times better because they're getting that approval, and everyone's participating and everybody's happy."

On the multi-talented Constance Hauman, who Clinton has nominated for the next Play It Forward...

"She has a group, Miss Velvet and The Blue Wolf. I found that out [that she's also an opera singer] ... after we'd been on the road [together] for almost a year and half. She opened up for us at B.B. King's in New York [and] we ended up working together almost two years, all through Australia, Europe, everywhere. But I had no idea about the opera part of it until somebody said, 'Constance sing[s] opera herself.' They showed me a video and I'm like, 'Oh my god — what?' I had to call her up and say, 'You didn't tell me about this!' "

"Blew me away. So I was already proud of the fact that we'd worked together, but then it was like a whole new thing now that I'm seeing that she's got all this talent. When they asked me to do this show, that's the first thing that popped out of my mouth, before you finished telling me what it was about.

... and a closing message for Hauman

"I'm ready to hit the road again. Are you ready to hit the road again? We've got some unfinished things to do. We were right in the middle of recording some of the shows live when the pandemic started ... I'll see her in outer space."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.