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Mary Bridget Davies as Janis Joplin

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Janis Joplin Musical 'A Night With Janis Joplin' Hits Cinemas Nationwide

Show lead Mary Bridget Davies and Janis' brother Michael Joplin discuss honoring the late rock icon in the captivating stage play-turned-film

GRAMMYs/Nov 6, 2019 - 01:54 am

Mary Bridget Davies has been living the musical life of Janis Joplin, singing her songs and bringing her music to her original fans as well as younger generations. What began as a regional theater gig in 2006 led the lifelong vocalist to touring with Joplin's original band, Big Brother and the Holding Company and then starring in the Broadway musical, "A Night With Janis Joplin," that extended into national touring. She even has the blessing and approval of the iconic rocker's siblings Laura and Michael Joplin.

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Now Davie's exuberant performance in "A Night With Janis Joplin" has been captured for posterity and is being screened in theaters across the country between Nov. 5 and Nov. 11. CineLife Entertainment is releasing the film with BroadwayHD (showing and ticket info available here) of a performance that was recorded at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in California in September 2018.

Originally staged on the Great White Way from October 2013 to February 2014, "A Night With Janis Joplin" has toured the country regularly since with Davies still in the lead role. The show landed her a Tony nomination for Best Performance By An Actress In A Leading Role In A Musical, and upon watching this two-hour concert style event, it is easy to see why. Davies commands the stage with her powerhouse pipes and also charms during the contemplative monologues between numbers that flesh out parts of Joplin's remarkable life story.

This show is not simply a Janis musical revue with a live band (who, by the way, have chops to spare). Interspersed throughout hits like "Tell Mama," "Piece Of My Heart," and the post-bow encore of "Mercedes Benz" are songs by four women who were major influences in Janis' life: Etta James, Nina Simone, Bessie Smith, and Odetta, plus an Act One ending fantasy duet with her peer Aretha Franklin, which never happened in real life. The show creates a bridge and a dialogue between Janis and her female inspirations (in real life, Janis did sing with Tina Turner and Mavis Staples).

Davies explains that the show began as an off-Broadway production called "One Night With Janis Joplin," and only one female singer inhabited all the African-American singer roles. But the ensemble was later enhanced. The renamed "A Night With Janis Joplin" emerged in the summer 2012 in Davies' hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, went to the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., and the Pasadena Playhouse, before landing on Broadway in spring 2013. "It was a very quick process," says Davies.

While the Joplin siblings were involved in the casting for "A Night With Janis Joplin," Michael recalled Davies from her role in a previous off-Broadway show called "Love, Janis," and knew that she had toured with Big Brother and the Holding Company. "There were a lot of women that could sing insanely well, but not a lot that could pull a Janis thing off," Michael explains. "I didn't realize that until we were auditioning."

They saw hundreds of women with plenty of theatrical experience, but Davies had the wow factor. "Mary comes from performance, and that's a real different skill set especially [in] rowdy bars," Michael says. "You learn a real different set on how to grab a bar." And a theatre audience.

"When you play Janis Joplin, you don't play her politely" -Mary Bridget Davies

When "A Night With Janis Joplin" first emerged on Broadway, there were some criticisms that it did not delve deeply into the tragic side of her story and stayed upbeat throughout the show. However, "Love, Janis," staged in NYC in 2001, handled that aspect and was inspired by the best-selling book written by Laura Joplin. Davies joined the touring company in 2006. Singers who tackled the role prior included Cathy Richardson, Andra Mitrovich, Beth Hart, Laura Branigan, and Sass Jordan, among others. (Interestingly enough, for whatever reason, many did not last that long in the part.)

"That was far more dark," Davies says of "Love, Janis." "It was telling her story chronologically from her beginnings in Austin, Texas, and hitchhiking to San Francisco, meeting Big Brother, all of that up until her untimely passing [in 1970]. It was pretty maudlin. We played the actual coroner's report. She shot up in scenes. It was heavy, but it was accurate, and that's what I loved about it. People just think rock stars are these happy go lucky bobbleheads, and that they're just living the dream. That show really proved that it's not all it's cracked up to be."

By contrast, "A Night With..." serves a different function, as if Janis were coming from Heaven and throwing her ultimate concert, one which Davies likens to the 1987 concert and TV special "B.B. King and Friends," which featured the rock icon performing with the likes of Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Chaka Khan, Etta James, and Gladys Knight. In this case, Janis is paying tribute, "To the women who shaped her sound and who she looked up to so much," says Davies.

The newer Janis musical is ultimately uplifting. "I wanted to have a fun night," says Michael. "I realized that I don't pay to go see movies that depress me anymore. I just don't care. I could do that just reading the paper. I want to be entertained. That was our goal from the get go, to have an entertaining evening that you felt good about. You might learn something, and there might be some tears, but there's gonna be a lot of joy."

Both "A Night With..." and "Love, Janis" have used direct quotes from Janis' life rather than fictionalize her story.

"People had done that enough already, even in their own stories about her," notes Michael. "Even in some aspects, Janis fictionalized herself. She was a really good salesman. She wanted to get stuff in print. She was 25 – what the hell, go for it."

Janis once addressed the idea that while she did not yet have the life experience of her idols, she had the strength and was hoping to reach a higher level as a performer. "I've always admired that," says Michael. "I thought that was extremely aware, and I've always applauded that forward thinking in her."

Michael praises "A Night With..." book writer Randy Johnson in tracing his sister's musical evolution and how her influences (blues, soul, Broadway, psychedelic rock, and later, a little country) guided her. The Joplin siblings grew up with classical and Broadway music being played at home.

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Davies notes that many fans do not know that "Summertime," which was recorded by Big Brother and the Holding Company, came from the African-American folk opera "Porgy & Bess" which debuted on Broadway in 1935. Appropriately enough, this production's version begins with another singer tackling the original version before segueing into the Big Brother rendition. "I love watching the audience's reaction," says Michael. "They're in awe of both. That's so fun to watch."

While some in the media tried to paint Joplin as manic depressive or dour, her brother Michael has stated before that she actually was having a good time and enjoying her life. It showed on stage.

"Janis was such a different take," says Micheal. "All the women before were pretty straightforward and singing nicely. Grace Slick was a wonderful rock performer, but she was definitely singing that kind of theater voice versus the Janis rock thing. It just took everybody by surprise, so their automatic distrust of something new was going to be there. That's a human nature thing. It wasn't Janis' intent to break down any doors. She just did what she did. Big Brother was an intense garage band."

Michael says he and his family saw Janis perform three times with Big Brother (although not with the Kosmic Blues Band or the Full Tilt Boogie Band). "That was pretty insane," he recalls of the experience. "That was pretty cool. My parents were a little bit shocked by all of it. I can't see how they wouldn't be actually." The singer's appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show cemented her legitimacy with her parents.

"As a parent, you've got to watch that and hope for the best," says Michael. "They had a lot of fears, and well-founded now in hindsight, but they were still incredibly proud of her and her drive and ability. But terrified all at the same time. As a parent now, I can completely understand that. You just pray that they get through it."

While there is no way to truly replace Janis, Davies has been doing an admirable and acclaimed job. Following "Love, Janis," she landed a gig singing with Joplin's original group, Big Brother and the Holding Company, on and off between the summers of 2006 and 2012.

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"I was lucky enough to tour Europe with them a few times, see the world with them, and really get to know Janis from their point-of-view," says Davies. "They were all just like best friends. Just getting those background stories that you can't get except from the source was a lot of fun too. They still knew how to throw down. They were fun in their advanced age, if you will. The remaining members that are still alive are the rhythm section, Dave Getz the drummer and Peter Albin on bass, are still out there touring and doing their thing."

Davies has soldiered on with her chosen role in "A Night With Janis Joplin," dazzling fans old and new. "People who were there the first time remember it and feel young," she remarks. "My favorite moment is when you look out and see someone walk in with a walker or a cane, and by the end of Act One, they've got that cane in the air and they're standing on their own two feet and they're feeling that adrenaline like they did when they were kids. Then I've done my job. Then you see younger kids come up to you after the show and go, 'I had no idea who Bessie Smith was.' Or I'll get stage letters like, 'I saw your show last year, and I just want you to know that I did my social sciences diorama on women of the blues in the early Twenties.' That's cool."

According to Micheal, social media is likely the main way that younger fans find out about Janis and her music, although her multigenerational appeal means that younger people also discover the singer through older relatives. "We'd go to the play and watch grandmas taking their daughters with their granddaughters and they're all rocking," he says. "It's so cool to see that. Theater is definitely lending itself towards gray hair, but a lot of Janis' performances are not."

The distinct grittiness in Janis' voice is something that other singers have struggled with, and Davies certainly took time to transition into that vocal space. "I'll tell you as someone that's been doing it for a very long time, she had a lot of finesse under that," says Davies. "That banshee wail was a complete and very cool fabrication of her own singing voice. She created that." When Davies tried singing "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)" for the first time with her cover band at age 21, she admittedly blew her voice out halfway through.

"It was literally navigating unchartered waters," says Davies. "It took me a couple of years to actually get it to where I wouldn't hurt myself, but I would still be able to really drop the hammer and go nuts."

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">NEW YORK CITY! I am so excited to share that we will be performing the new album, Stay With Me, at le poisson rouge Saturday October 26th! Come down and hear this amazing new record and tell your friends! <a href="https://t.co/hIq1LTbCj5">https://t.co/hIq1LTbCj5</a></p>&mdash; Mary Bridget Davies (@marybdavies) <a href="https://twitter.com/marybdavies/status/1182731128295383040?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">October 11, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

If one listens to the first single "The Right Of Way" from Davies' forthcoming solo album Stay With Me: The Reimagined Songs of Jerry Ragovoy, which is due out in January 2020, one can hear her natural singing voice. (Side note: Ragovoy co-wrote a few tunes that Janis sung.) Davies' normal voice is just as strong but without that extra layer of grit, and it showcases a different side of her singing. She has learned to walk a line between her voice and that of Janis.

"That's the other thing – when you play Janis Joplin, you don't play her politely," observes Davies. "That's counterproductive. I've found a way to harness that lightning, but it took a few years for me to get it to where I could control it. I love putting the grit on it. Now it's second nature to me. I live in a world between the two now."

GRAMMY.com contributor Bryan Reesman is the author of Bon Jovi: The Story and host of the podcast Side Jams.

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New Broadway Musicals To See This Spring: "Hell's Kitchen," "The Wiz" & More

Broadway’s newest musicals have something for everyone, from works by GRAMMY-winning artists, to highly-anticipated revivals. Read on for everything you need to know about the new musicals appearing on Broadway.

GRAMMYs/Apr 3, 2024 - 01:27 pm

It’s a busy spring season on Broadway, with 11 musicals opening by April 25 — the cutoff for this year’s Tony Award eligibility.

Spring 2024 musicals span a wide range of styles and genres, from adaptations of literary classics and histories, to timeless revivals and jukebox musicals from GRAMMY winners Huey Lewis and Alicia Keys. The season also features some recognizable singers including Deborah Cox, Jeremy Jordan, Shoshana Bean, and Brandon Victor Dixon.

Here’s a breakdown (in alphabetical order) of what’s playing; unless listed, all of the following musicals have open run dates.

"Cabaret"

August Wilson Theatre

Set within the seedy Kit Kat Club in 1930s Berlin as the Nazi regime was beginning to take over,  "Cabaret" premiered on Broadway in 1966. The hit play starred Joel Grey as the Emcee and Jill Haworth. Sally Bowles, with music and lyrics by the legendary John Kander and the late Fred Ebb. In 1972, the musical was turned into a movie starring Gray and Liza Minnelli; it subsequently won eight Academy Awards, including Best Actor and Actress for Grey and Minnelli. 

The 2024 revival stars Eddie Redmayne as the Emcee, who will perform in the round on an  immersive set. While the stage may be different, fans can still expect unique renditions of iconic songs such as "Willkommen," "Cabaret" and "Don’t Tell Mama." 

"Hell's Kitchen"

Shubert Theater 

Sixteen-time GRAMMY winner Alicia Keys brings her artistry from the Super Bowl to the Broadway stage in the jukebox musical "Hell’s Kitchen." Loosely based on Keys' life growing up in the Manhattan neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen, the story centers around 17-year-old Ali, played by newcomer Maleah Joi Moon, as she navigates her teenage years through love and loss.

Written by Pulitzer Prize-finalist playwright Kristoffer Diaz, "Hell's Kitchen" features songs by Keys with new arrangements, as well as the recently debuted "Kaleidoscope."  Shoshana Bean and two-time GRAMMY nominee Brandon Victor Dixon co-star in the musical, all reprising their roles from its premiere at the Public Theatre last fall.

"Illinoise"

St. James Theatre 

April 24 - Aug. 10

This new, dance-centered musical was the last show to announce its arrival on Broadway this season, and is moving from the New York’s Upper East Side Park Avenue Armory after a sold out run in order to meet the Tony Award eligibility deadline.

"Illinoise" features music by GRAMMY-nominated musician Sufjan Stevens and is based on his beloved 2005 concept album Illinois. The album features stories, people and places from the state. The show is conceived and choreographed by Justin Peck, of the New York City Ballet, who also choreographed Maestro and Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story. "‘Illinoise’ is a coming-of-age story that takes the audience on a journey through the American heartland — from campfire storytelling to the edges of the cosmos — all told in through a unique blend of music, dance, and theater," Peck said in a statement.

Dancers featured in the show include Yesenia Ayala, Gaby Diaz, Jeanette Delgado and  Ben Cook, who also were in West Side Story.

"Lempicka"

Longacre Theatre

"Lempicka" is a brand new, original musical with a "pop infused sound" with a script and lyrics by Carson Kreitzer and book and music by Matt Gould.

The musical tells the tale of real Polish painter Tamara de Lempicka, who was famous for her art deco portraits of aristocrats and highly stylized nude paintings. While Lempicka changed art and culture in the late 1800s, she struggled with decades of political and personal turmoil. Eden Espinosa stars in the title role, and previously played Elphaba in "Wicked." Amber Iman, the first woman to perform on Broadway after the Coronavirus shutdown and Tony Award winner Beth Leavel also star in the show.

"The Great Gatsby"

Broadway Theatre

First it was a book, turned into a movie, and now a Broadway musical. "The Great Gatsby" is based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary classic, and has all the glitz and jazz-aged glam of the 1925 novel.

Starring Jeremy Jordan as Long Island millionaire Jay Gatsby and Eva Noblezada as Daisy Buchanan, the Broadway adaptation features all new music with a modern jazz and pop score by Jason Howland with lyrics by Nathan Tysen. As in the book, "Gatsby" tells the story of how Gatsby is after his long lost love Daisy and all the stops to bring her back into his life.

"The Heart of Rock and Roll"

James Earl Jones Theatre

Songs by GRAMMY winners Huey Lewis & the News appear in two new musicals this season. "The Power of Love" is featured in "Back to the Future" (which opened last summer) and the new jukebox musical, "The Heart of Rock and Roll." 

Set in 1987 and featuring many hits from the time, the story centers on the young couple, played by Cory Cottand McKenzie Kurtz, who work at the same company and eventually fall in love. Bobby, a rock and roller, trades his guitar for the corporate ladder and his boss Cassandra is always putting the family business first. The musical is jam packed with Huey Lewis megahits like "Do You Believe in Love", "Hip to Be Square," and "If This Is It." 

"The Notebook"

Schoenfeld Theatre

Singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelon wrote the music and lyrics for this tear-jerker musical adapted from Nicholas Sparks’ best-selling novel and the classic romantic movie starring Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling. Michaelson admits she’s best at the "weepy and romantic" songs.

The musical tells the story of how leads Allie and Noah shared a lifetime of love despite growing up in opposite socioeconomic classes. And if you’re wondering: yes, the famous rain scene from the movie makes a big splash with audiences on Broadway. 

"The Outsiders"

Bernard B. Jacobs Theater

"The Outsiders" transforms S.E. Hinton's novel — perhaps most famous for the 1983 movie starring Matt Damon, Patrick Swayze and Tom Cruise — into a Broadway musical. One of its co-producers is Angelina Jolie, who saw the show with her family when it debuted out-of-town in California. 

"The Outsiders" features a book by Adam Rapp with Justin Levine, along with music and lyrics by Jamestown Revival (Jonathan Clay & Zach Chance) and Justin Levine. Set in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1967, Ponyboy Curtis and Johnny Cade along with their fellow Outsiders  battle their rivals, the Socs.

"The Who’s Tommy"

Nederlander Theatre

Perhaps the most famous song from 1975 rock opera The Who’s Tommy is "Pinball Wizard" written by guitarist Pete Townshend. The musician won a GRAMMY for Best Musical Show Album in 1993 for the musical’s original cast recording. 

Des McAnuff — who co-wrote the musical's script with Townshend and also directed the original musical 30 years ago — is back in the director’s chair for this revival. The musical, about a boy who finds a knack for playing pinball, is based on the Who’s 1969 album, Tommy. It was also turned into a 1975 film called Tommy, which starred Elton John, Tina Turner, Ann Margaret and Roger Daltry as Tommy. On Broadway, Ali Louis Bourzgui stars in the title role. 

"The Wiz"

Marquis Theatre

Ease on down the road to the Marquis Theatre! "The Wiz" returns to Broadway for the first time since it premiered back in 1974 for a limited run followed by subsequent shows around the country. The show is based on The Wizard of Oz and, in 1978, was turned into a film starring Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the Tinman. 

The revival features music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls, and book by William F. Brown with script updates by Amber Ruffin (whose Some Like It Hot won Best Musical Theater Album at the 2024 GRAMMYs). JaQuel Knight, who choreographed Beyoncé’s "Single Ladies," choreographed "The Wiz."

Newcomer Nichelle Lewis plays Dorothy along with Wayne Brady as The Wiz and Deborah Cox as Glinda. Look out for Avery Wilson as the Scarecrow; the R&B singer appeared on "The Voice" and their single "Kiss The Sky" cracked the Top 20 on Billboard’s R&B chart. 

"Suffs"

Music Box Theatre

On the heels of "Hamilton" is a historic musical called "Suffs." It’s 1913 and the women’s suffrage movement is heating up in America. The suffragists, or "Suffs," are relentless in their pursuit of the right to vote. 

Shaina Taub stars as Alice Paul, one of the leaders of the National Women’s Party. Taub also wrote the book, music and lyrics (She’s also collabing with five-time GRAMMY winner Elton John on the "Devil Wears Prada" musical). "Suffs" is produced by Hillary Clinton, tying the suffrage movement to contemporary politics in a tangible way.

"Water for Elephants"   

Imperial Theatre

Sara Gruen’s novel and 2011 film adaptation has now turned into a musical with music/lyrics by PigPen Theatre Co. 

Rick Elice (known for writing the book for "Jersey Boys") puts his stamp on this show about Jacob Jankowski, who jumps on a train finding a new home with a traveling circus. 

Like "The Notebook," this "memory musical" is told from his point of view as an old man and goes back and forth between the present and the past when he worked for the circus. Audiences will love the aerial tricks and impressive elephant puppetry. "

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Kendrick Lamar GRAMMY Rewind Hero
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

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He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Photo: Rachel Kupfer 

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A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea

James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:23 pm

It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.

Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.

Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.

In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.

Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.

There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.

Say She She

Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.

While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."

Moniquea

Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.

Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.

Shiro Schwarz

Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.

Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.

L'Impératrice

L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.

During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.

Franc Moody

Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.

Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.

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billy idol living legend
Billy Idol

Photo: Steven Sebring

interview

Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage

"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:19 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP,  Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.

Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.  

Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face." 

But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life. 

His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves. 

Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)

Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") —  their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.

While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens. 

Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.

Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up. 

Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically. 

"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?

We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds. 

We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick. 

I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?

Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol. 

You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way. 

**Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about  freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?**

I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier. 

I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff. 

So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.

[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.

I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.

Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?

I did, yes.

You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?

I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.

It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.

But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is]  informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.

Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.

We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.

It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].

We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.

You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.

It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.

When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.

You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?

Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."

We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.

You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.

With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.

Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.

You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?

I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.

But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.

I remember when you went on "Viva La Bamback in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?

I think it was his car.

Did he get over it later on?

He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.

Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?

In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.

We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.

The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.

There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.

It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.

It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.

Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?

Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.

The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.

The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?

Yeah.  Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].

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