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David Gilbert

David Gilbert is an assistant professor of U.S. history at Mars Hill University, in Asheville, North Carolina. His manuscript, The Product of Our Souls: Ragtime, Race, and The Birth of the Manhattan Musical Marketplace, was published by UNC Press in 2015 and received the American Library Association Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Title.

"Funking-Up Lift: Parliament/Funkadelic’s Radical Representations of Black Masculinity"
 A former barber who began his musical career in a suit and tie, Parliament/Funkadelic leader George Clinton knew “manly” style both personally and musically. Still, he conceived of his 1970s bands as vehicles for both genre-bending musical exploration and freaky DIY black self-definition. Through doing so, Clinton and his P-Funk Army both subverted musical expectations and challenged American and African-American sensibilities about gender norms and, especially, black masculinity.

This paper examines P-Funk’s radical representations of black masculinity through sound, iconography and politics. It shows how the group’s distinctive sound – mixing aggressive lead guitars and melodious voices, electric keys and “space bass” – helped create a musical mix that offered new ways to perform as black men. It discusses how the group’s clothing and revolving cast destabilized traditional roles for both men and women on stage., And it demonstrates how the group’s political messages dialectically drew from both the “respectable” Civil Rights Movement of DuBois’s NAACP and King’s SCLC, while also singing anthems for the post-integration freedom strategies of Black Power, the Panthers, and Black Arts Movements. A true dialectician, Clinton sampled from both political blueprints, and conceptions of manhood were crucial to the dialectic. On stage and on record, Parliament/Funkadelic challenged the prominence of black men in the presentation of the freedom struggle and the “traditional” roles played by black men within that struggle. I argue that a study of Parliament/Funkadelic opens up new possibilities for masculinity during the pre-disco era of U.S. popular culture, suggesting the fluidity and malleability of male-ness and imagining more inclusive, transgressive gender identities for African-American men in the 1970s and opening doors for everyone else. “Free Your Mind, and Your Ass Will Follow!”