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"The Coolest Cat On The Planet": Honoring Tony Bennett, An Industry Icon And Champion Of The Great American Songbook
Tony Bennett's unmatched style and powerhouse voice, most recently paired with Lady Gaga, is up for several GRAMMY Awards this year. The Recording Academy honors Bennett with a roundtable tribute, featuring his contemporaries, collaborators and friends.
The nominations for the 64th GRAMMY Awards included a record-breaking slew of nods for an industry legend. But for 95-year-old Tony Bennett, the accolades are just the latest superlative in a historic career that has had a sparkling evolution from '50s-era crooner to bonafide icon.
Bennett scored six nominations alongside duet partner Lady Gaga for their Cole Porter tribute album Love For Sale, making history as the oldest artist to be nominated for Record Of The Year and Album Of The Year. The legend also received nominations for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album, Best Engineered Album (Non-Classical), Best Music Video and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.
The 18-time GRAMMY winner long ago staked a claim in the annals of music history, whether releasing instant classics such as 1951’s "Because of You" or his career signature "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," or creating swinging hits like "Rags to Riches." Decades into his career, Bennet maintains an unparalleled reputation as one of the Greatest American Songbook’s biggest champions and interpreters.
"Mr. Tony Bennett is truly the greatest singer to ever do it. I have learned so much from his records as a young musician and then later joining him on stage and in the studio over the years," says Brian Newman, the GRAMMY-winning bandleader, arranger and trumpeter for Cheek to Cheek and Love for Sale. "His reverence for the Great American Songbook is why I love this music so much. Pulling at your heartstrings, with every lyric and phrase."
Bennett's unmatched style and powerhouse voice (even "The Voice" himself, Frank Sinatra, famously referred to Bennett as his favorite artist) puts him in rarified air, even amongst the industry's biggest names. Ahead of the 2022 GRAMMYs, the Recording Academy honors the seminal figure with a roundtable tribute, featuring Bennett’s contemporaries, collaborators, friends and mentees.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
In No Uncertain Terms, Tony Bennett Is A Living Legend
Johnny Mathis (GRAMMY-nominated singer): Tony is an icon.
Chris Botti (GRAMMY-winning trumpeter): Tony Bennett is one of our greatest American treasures.
Michael Bublé (GRAMMY-winning singer): He’s one of the greatest vocalists, storytellers and interpreters of all time.
Nancy Sinatra (GRAMMY-nominated singer): Tony is not just an American treasure but an international treasure, loved by the entire world.
Gregg Field (GRAMMY-winning producer, arranger): Tony is among only a handful of singers I’ve worked with who have a natural ability to be completely undistracted while they are telling stories through song.
Wayne Newton (Chart-topping singer): As a performer, Tony Bennett is exquisite. There’s nothing he does on stage that is forced. It always comes from his heart.
Clive Davis (GRAMMY-winning executive): Tony Bennett’s voice is truly perfection. Whether it’s a pop song, jazz or blues, when Tony sings it it’s forever definitive.
Singing The Soundtrack Of Our Lives
Jack Jones (GRAMMY-winning singer and actor): He’s been a singing star as long as I can remember, but I became aware of him in high school when I had my first kiss at a dance. His record "Stranger in Paradise" was always on the radio at the time. He sounded like what romance meant to me, singing these beautiful songs, and I got to thinking that his voice was always the most identifiable from the very beginning of his career. People like me and Steve Lawrence had to get warmed in before you could tell who it was, but you always knew it was Tony.
Gregg Field: I’ve been a fan of Tony from back when I would go to see him at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco as a teenager. I worked with him for the first time when I was a young member of Count Basie’s band. Tony loved Basie and we would do concerts together two or three times a year. Tony very much lived in his own world. I remember one time Tony and I were in a car heading to a hotel and he mentioned that like Duke Ellington, he had never driven a car because he was always too distracted by the music in his head.
Brian Newman: He really makes you feel every moment of that song and you know that he means every word he is singing. He has an uncanny ability to take words that were written by some of the greatest songwriters of all time and uniquely make them his own.
Wayne Newton: He was constantly around Frank Sinatra when the Rat Pack was in Vegas, so he’s always been a part of the Vegas genre, if you will. [They are] the superstars that really left an image on this town that has sustained for a long time.
Johnny Mathis: Tony takes me back to a different period which I remember very fondly. We have a great deal in common because we both came up in the music industry at a similar time and were both Columbia Records artists. We were also particularly fortunate to sing wonderful songs written by some of the best songwriters of the era, and work with many of the finest musicians and producers in the world.
Learning From The Best
Michael Bublé: I learned a lot working with him. Having my hero take me under his wing was one of the greatest moments of my life and my career. It meant a lot to me and it brought gravitas to everything I did.
Brian Newman: His humility and his longevity is a testament to how he treats others around him. It is always a supreme honor to be in his presence and he is someone I will always study and look up to.
Chris Botti: I've had the great pleasure of working with him many times and consider him to be not only an icon, but one of the most generous performers I've ever worked with.
Michael Bublé: He was even generous in what he would tell me when we’d be together. I said to him, "I’m learning as much as I can from you." And he laughed and said, "If you steal from one, you’re a thief. But when you steal from everyone, you can call it research." It’s a quote that I actually use a lot whenever any young person comes up to me and asks for advice. That’s exactly what I tell them: Take it all in and borrow from everyone. We’re all a culmination of our heroes.
Gregg Field: With Tony, it's always very personal and you feel like you are being given a window into who he is. Sinatra, Ella, Luther Vandross and, of course, Tony, were masters at that. Sinatra once said: "I only need one mic and one light." What does that say about the depth of their artistry? A Picasso is a Picasso, and the frame is irrelevant. Tony can transport his audience and you feel like it’s just you and him.
A Stacked Discography
Michael Bublé: My favorite Tony song is "I Wanna Be Around;" I think it’s one of his greatest vocal performances. I love Ralph Sharon on piano on the track; he’s one of the greatest accompanists of all time. From its sentiment, to how hard it swings and the way he and his band fit together like a glove, it’s perfection. It’s a song that became the soundtrack of my life. It’s just the most wonderful song with great lyrical content about love and also about revenge. I thought it was just so cool.
Jack Jones: For the second-ever GRAMMYs, I sang the five nominated songs when one of them was mine, "Wives and Lovers." And so I got to Tony’s song "I Wanna Be Around" and said, "Hey Tony, you gotta help me!" He jumped up and finished the song with me. It was a great moment.
Gregg Field: His recordings with Basie, Ellington and particularly Bill Evans are certainly iconic albums in the jazz world. But Tony is the ultimate interpreter of a great lyric, especially when he sings a ballad. His original ballad recording of Stevie Wonder’s "For Once in My Life" is the very definition of great vocal interpretation. It’s slow and Tony waits. When he finally says the first line, it’s not "crooned," it’s stated. Tony creates a narrative and an anticipation for the next line, and it always becomes deeply personal.
Johnny Mathis: My favorite Tony song is "Because Of You." While it was before "I Left My Heart In San Francisco," it is just the song that I personally most associate with Tony. His interpretation is so honest and it was very representative of the time. Also, I believe it was produced at my favorite CBS 30th street studio in New York by my lifelong friend, Percy Faith.
Gregg Field: Tony is also a great visual artist and was always drawing on napkins or whatever was nearby. I cherish those drawings.
Nancy Sinatra: His records and the paintings he created over the years will live on forever. I am the proud caretaker of a lovely gouache Tony made for me — plus every album he has ever made. My favorite is his The Movie Song Album. Every track is a classic.
Brian Newman: Tony's such a prolific recording artist and has performed most every song in the Great American Songbook. It's so hard to pick a favorite but here are my top three right now: "Once Upon a Summertime" from his 1963 record I Wanna Be Around… , "Some Other Time" from the duo records he did with famed pianist Bill Evans — this is one of my favorite records of all time; truly a masterpiece. "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" off the 1970 album Something — he holds a gorgeous high note at the end that is at least 20 seconds long. Wow!
Tony Tales From The Road
Jack Jones: One night we were staying at the same hotel and the two of us went down to the bar to have a drink. At a certain point, he pulled out his pencil and pad and he started sketching on a napkin a drawing of the guy who was sitting at the end of the bar. So we finished and I saw him crumble it up in his hand and he was about to throw it away, and I said, "Oh no, you don’t!" And he said, "You want this?" I said, "Sure I do." To this day, it’s sitting on my coffee table.
Brian Newman: There are so many great stories of working with Tony. They are moments that I will cherish and honor forever. I remember when we were in Brussels for the release concert for Cheek to Cheek, and he was hanging with all of us at this tiny bar until the wee hours of the morning. I'll never forget the great stories and knowledge that he shared with us that night.
Clive Davis: Over the years, I’ve loved often showcasing Tony at my pre-GRAMMY gala. I would watch all the young artists and musicians in the room transfixed by him.
Nancy Sinatra: Tony named a school in Astoria for Frank and when his family suggested he changed the name to the Tony Bennett School, Tony wouldn't do it. The school was named for his friend. Period.
Wayne Newton: My favorite Tony story happened at the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles. The guy that booked there got into a big scene with Tony for some reason and fired him. And Tony’s next record out was "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," which of course was the biggest hit in the world. Well now, the place wanted him back.
So the guy called him and said, "I’ll pay you whatever you’re now receiving and we’ll make sure to get anything else you need." And Tony said, "Yeah, I need a black glass stage." And the guy said, "What? Well, if you can come on this date we’ll have a black glass stage for you." And he hung up the phone and Tony was asked, "What in the world do you need with a black glass stage?" And Tony said, "I don’t need it at all, it was the only thing I could think of." That’s Tony Bennett, and it’s those kinds of stories that tell you more about individuals than their art.
Brian Newman: Another good Tony story was in Belgium. Our sax man Steve Kortyka, who I've been playing with for over 20 years, came by my room to rehearse some of our horn parts. Since we've known each other so long, he gave a few really loud banging knocks on my door just to mess with me. Turns out he was across the hall banging on Tony's hotel room door! I heard the commotion and when I opened my door there was Steve directly across the hall from me, facing Tony and his open door. There were the three of us, not sure what to do! Steve apologized profusely and we all had a good laugh about it. Later that night he came down to the bar and we all had some champagne together at the bar with the band.
Nancy Sinatra: On a personal level, I remember how nervous I was performing "This Girl’s in Love With You" on "The Ed Sullivan Show." Tony was in the audience smiling and cheering me on. Later on, when my father was dying, Tony was the only celebrity friend who came to visit. One evening at dinner, there we sat — the three of us, Dad in pajamas, dining quietly, not much conversation, the two legends and me. Tony respected my dad so much that he didn't impose a lot of talking. He simply followed Dad's lead. It was a sweet, lovely night.
Jack Jones: At Sinatra’s funeral, I remember we met up afterwards and he said, "What are you doing?" I said, "Oddly enough, I’m working on an album dedicated to you" and he offered to do the cover. So the plan was that he’d go to England and when he’d get back, he’d send me the cover. He went away, called me from the Dorchester Hotel and said, "What color are your eyes?" And I said, "Hazel" and he said, "Thank you," and hung up.
So I’m waiting for it to arrive and it never did, so I had to get someone else to do the cover for me. He didn’t realize it didn’t arrive and thought I was shying away from it. We wound up meeting each other at the GRAMMYs right after. I was able to tell him, "Hey, we never got the picture so we had to get someone else." But apparently, someone accidentally put it in a closet in his office and they forgot to send it out. But we called it Jack Jones Paints a Tribute to Tony Bennett and it became one of my favorite albums of my career.
Giving A Legend His Due
Nancy Sinatra: Tony is an American treasure who has served his country for decades. First as a soldier on the front lines in WWII, and then as an entertainer singing for the troops. His life was shaped by the terrible things he saw in the war and, as a result, Tony is perhaps the most peaceful and peace-loving man I know. I love Tony, and I treasure his friendship. Above all else, he is a precious friend.
Johnny Mathis: Tony is one of the last of his genre and he stands alone because of his unique talent, work ethic and his dignified demeanor. He was not afraid to stretch musically yet still remained true to himself.
Gregg Field: A couple of years ago I was asked to music-direct Tony’s "Library of Congress-Gershwin Prize" PBS special, which I was very proud to have received an Emmy for. My association with Tony has lasted over 40 years; our last gig together was in 2019 at the Statue of Liberty along with Gloria Estefan. I was noticing the signs of his Alzheimer’s coming on then. I can only imagine the courage and passion it took for Tony to walk onto the stage at Radio City last year for the last time with Lady Gaga. After all the concerts over seven decades, performing in every corner of the world, it was at once incredibly moving knowing that we will not be able to experience Tony’s magic again after that night, but bittersweet that this was the perfect finale.
Jack Jones: He’s able to sing up in that high register to this day. I thought the show he did in New York with Lady Gaga was wonderful. Knowing what they were going through and the fact he sang everything just beautifully. It was a more than wonderful thing for her to do that. It was very special, and very unique.
Gregg Field: Overall, his absolute unrelenting commitment to excellence is at the forefront. In spite of decades of passing musical trends, Tony recognized greatness, and it is always that the next generation of artists that are attracted to his music.
Johnny Mathis: He raised the level of popular music of the day while always remaining a gentleman. He’s someone to look up to and even more importantly, he’s able to bring together different generations through his music. What he contributed over his long and successful career will last, which is the ultimate goal of nearly every artist.
Clive Davis: He’s an all-time best. An all-time real deal.
Brian Newman: He really is the coolest cat on the planet.
Photo: Kelly Samson, Gallery Photography
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
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.
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."
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.
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."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: Larry Busacca/WireImage
Remembering Tony Bennett's Monumental Musical Legacy: "The Classiest Singer, Man, And Performer You Will Ever See"
With 19 GRAMMYs and a "once-in-a-generation" voice, Tony Bennett's undying love for the Great American Songbook made for a remarkable career. The iconic singer died on July 21, just two weeks short of his 97th birthday.
He was an integral part of the American cultural fabric, one of the music industry's shining lights, the Great American Songbook's biggest living champion and a generation-spanning one-of-a-kind talent whose iconic career stretched from radio days to the current streaming age. The death of Tony Bennett at age 96 marks the end of an era in both music and the nation at large; a legendary figure who transcended the decades with an unmatched voice and a burning passion for the music he performed.
A recipient of the Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001, Bennett won 19 GRAMMYS among 41 nominations throughout his staggering career. His first two GRAMMYS came from his signature tune, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," which won Best Solo Vocal Performance, Male and Record of the Year at the 1963 GRAMMYs (it was later inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame in 1994). He most recently won a GRAMMY in 2022 for Traditional Best Pop Vocal Album for his Cole Porter tribute with Lady Gaga, Love For Sale.
"Tony Bennett was an iconic, once-in-a-generation voice in American music," said Harvey Mason jr, CEO of The Recording Academy. "A 19-time GRAMMY winner between 1962-2021, Tony's work has stood the test of time while being embraced universally by audiences and musicians across generations. We're honored to have celebrated Tony's GRAMMY moments, 2001 Lifetime Achievement Award, and 1994 GRAMMY Hall of Fame induction alongside him throughout his illustrious career. The world has lost an astounding talent, and he will be deeply missed."
In the wake of his passing, Bennett's monumental impact on music has left the medium's biggest names musing about his vast influence. "Without doubt the classiest singer, man, and performer you will ever see," said Elton John in an Instagram post. "He's irreplaceable. I loved and adored him." Billy Joel called Bennett "one of the most important interpreters of American popular song" in his own post, while fellow crooner Harry Connick Jr. wrote "You changed the world with your voice."
"From an early age, I've been blessed by now that I wanted to be involved in artistic endeavors," Bennett wrote in his 2012 memoir Life is a Gift. "Even though we were very poor, my parents placed a high value on the arts. I always wanted to sing and paint; I never had to ask, 'What am I going to do with my life?' I always knew."
Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in Queens, New York, Bennett took early influence from his father, who was known to sing Italian folk songs; the crooner later credited his father (who died when he was 10) with inspiring his eventual career. Bennett's later service in World War II led to him to study at the American Theater Wing once stateside thanks to the G.I. Bill.
After a successful career as a club musician (where comedian Bob Hope bequeathed Bennett his shorter, angelized moniker), Columbia Records president Mitch Miller welcomed Bennett to his roster and in 1951, he released his first album Because of You. Of its eponymous single, Johnny Mathis later told GRAMMY.com it's the song he most personally associates with Tony. "His interpretation is so honest and it was very representative of the time," recalled Mathis of the track. "Because of You" was his first No. 1 hit — and in fitting form, it was also the last song he sang before his death.
Throughout his subsequent career, Bennett fiercely cherished the songs he sang, making hits of early recordings, from the bombastic "Rags to Riches" to the bittersweet "The Good Life." Though Bennett's catalog did include one dabble into modern pop hits with 1970's Tony Bennett Sings the Great Hits of Today!, his undying loyalty to his art manifested in his own response to the schlocky album: he later recalled throwing up the first time he heard it played back.
The consummate jazz virtuoso also embodied a steadfast determination to preserve and honor the Great American Songbook in his tribute albums. He recorded the music of everyone from friend and contemporary Ella Fitzegerald (1995's Here's to the Ladies), to several jazz greats on 2014's Cheek to Cheek, his first collaborative project with Lady Gaga.
Cheek to Cheek and the aforementioned Love for Sale — Bennett and Gaga's second LP together — both helped introduce Bennett to a new generation of listeners. In fact, Bennett reintroduced himself to fresh audiences multiple times during his career, whether his most recent bow with Gaga or in 1995 when his MTV Unplugged album won GRAMMYs for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance and the coveted Album of the Year.
The smooth romance of Bennett's voice also served as a motif for his catalog, a talent that The Voice himself, Frank Sinatra, first noticed. Lifelong friends until his death, Sinatra was famously quoted in a 1965 interview for Life Magazine saying, "For my money, Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business," a sentiment that cemented Bennett as an artist for all-time. (In the wake of his death, Sinatra's daughter Nancy called him "one of the most splendid people who ever lived.")
When it comes to vocal prowess alone, take for example "The Way You Look Tonight," the ultimate love song originally written in 1936 that Bennett first recorded in 1956, delivering multiple interpretations throughout his career. Elsewhere, it was during his '70s-era work with the pianist Bill Evans that showcased the singer's tender voice alongside Evans' tinkling piano, especially in the mournful "Young and Foolish," on which he sings of a sunsetting of youth.
"Overall, his absolute unrelenting commitment to excellence is at the forefront," musician and Bennett collaborator Gregg Field told GRAMMY.com last year. "In spite of decades of passing musical trends, Tony recognized greatness, and it is always that the next generation of artists that are attracted to his music."
But whether the songs he recorded were joyful or melancholy, Bennett's passion always shone through — and is ultimately what will make his legacy live on. "I encourage everyone to find their passion," he later wrote in Life is a Gift. "Work as hard as you can to follow your dreams; they will ultimately lead you to contentment in every aspect of your life. It's my goal at the end of the day to be able to lay my head on my pillow, knowing I've tried my best."
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
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.
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'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 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 (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'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.