A new museum rests behind a single unassuming door in downtown Dayton, Ohio, a town two hours from Kenyon by car. I entered this museum during a weekend trip with my family on Feb. 17. Inside, black walls decorated by colorful murals are filled with drums, jeweled stage costumes and photographs from countless donors and funk enthusiasts. A keyboard and signed guitar with the name Sly and the Family Stone painted on the body sit in a glass case. Numerous, similar displays fill the rest of the building. Many of the people working there are musicians or are involved in the music industry in addition to their affiliation to the new space. This is the Funk Music Hall of Fame and Exhibition Center, which opened this past month.
President and CEO of the organization David Webb, who dedicated his career to playing keyboard and drums at a Dayton recording studio and working as a production manager. He also worked as a music and talent scout and gained a deep appreciation for many styles of music growing up in Dayton, Ohio — but no style as much as funk.
Funk, marked by its distinct bass line and upbeat music, developed out of soul, blues and R&B in the 1960s and ’70s. Over four decades later, Webb has used his passion to create what he views as a long-deserved physical home for his favorite genre, which produced a number of bands in his native city.
First developed by James Brown’s band, later known as the J.B.’s, funk became popular due to bands like the Ohio Players, Slave and Zapp, all of whom came out of Dayton. “Ohio is the heart of it all for funk music, and Dayton, Ohio is the nerve center of funk,” Webb said. Other well-known representatives of the genre include Stevie Wonder and Parliament-Funkadelic, a collective led by New Jersey’s George Clinton.
Webb began creating a space to showcase the world of funk while he was working at a Dayton recording studio. After speaking with local musicians, he realized that the culture of funk was disappearing because it failed to reach younger generations. “It’s all about our children and the history of funk music so they can learn about it,” Webb said.
The collection of memorabilia on exhibit originated several years ago with a group of volunteers who formed TheFunkCenter, an organization dedicated to preserving and commemorating the history of funk music and culture. Since then, they have formed a board and executive council and created a website.
The board includes a diverse range of members, from baby boomers to people in their twenties. “Millenials have that cutting edge,” Webb said, explaining that the younger generation’s familiarity with social media and technology accompanies his own generation’s extensive knowledge of funk music and culture. The organization also includes members from several different continents and has established solid relationships with many of the musicians who donate artifacts.
The Hall of Fame opened its doors on Feb. 16. Dayton’s public library previously housed the exhibition, which has grown since moving into the museum. Items on display range from retired instruments from bands’ tours to contract paperwork from the 1960s and costumes worn by musicians on stage.
Funk is distinct from other musical genres because of its high energy. This is evident in the clothing exhibited at the Hall of Fame, which includes a number of jumpsuits worn by members of Zapp during their early career. The festive nature of funk also showed through programs like Soul Train, a music-dance television show in which people danced to live music and that first aired in 1971. TV screens along the walls of the museum played episodes of the show.
The opening of the Funk Hall of Fame has garnered nation-wide media attention. In “Funk Carves Out A Groove At The Funk Music Hall Of Fame In Ohio,” NPR covered the exhibition’s opening and shared a link to a playlist created by Webb, called Essential Funk: The Funk Music Hall of Fame’s Top Tracks by NPR Music, available for streaming on Spotify.
“They trust what I’m doing, they see what I’m doing, they research the organization, and they’re very excited about giving back,” Webb said. “Now funk music has its own home.”