Legendary fusion musician Edwin Birdsong joins the ancestors

AUTODIDACT 17 | 3/7/2019, 12:26 p.m.

Many associates, family and fans of influential musician Edwin Birdsong were saddened as they learned that he had transitioned on to the ancestral realm Monday, Jan. 21, in Los Angeles. He was 77 years of age.

Born in Shreveport, La., Aug. 22, 1941, his family relocated to Los Angeles later that decade. He graduated from Fremont High School and developed his organist and pianist skills at Solid Rock Missionary Baptist Church, where his father, Sidney, ministered. He eventually joined the Los Angeles Community Choir, performing with artists Merry Clayton, DJ Rogers and Billy Preston.

Birdsong enlisted in the army and raised servicemen’s morale while playing clubs in Germany and France, before settling in New York City during the mid-1960s, becoming a composition major at Juilliard School of Music, after two years at the Manhattan School of Music.

He perfected his blues/funk/jazz hybrid sound performing at local venues, before signing to Polydor Records in 1971, issuing albums “What It Is” (1972) and “Supernatural” (1973). He released “Dance of Survival” (1975 Bamboo Records), then recorded “Edwin Birdsong” (Philadelphia International 1979), which included “Cola Bottle Baby.” His final solo album, “Funtaztik” (Salsoul 1981), featured “Rapper, Dapper, Snapper,” which would be prominently sampled as hip-hop music flourished. Its drumbeat formed the foundation of De La Soul’s “Me, Myself & I;” X Clan’s “Funkin’ Lesson;” Snoop Dogg’s “Lodi Dodi” and Gang Starr’s “Skillz,” among others.

By the early 1970s, the revered musician’s deft keyboard skills and all-around artistry matched him with musical genius, Stevie Wonder and vibist/vocalist Roy Ayers. He and Ayers co-wrote the songs “Running Away” and “Freaky Deaky,” and Birdsong co-produced Ayers’ LPs “Vibrations,” “Lifeline” and “Let’s Do It,” and also the Ubiquity and RAMP projects.

Plus, he has performed with several elite artists—Bob Marley, George Clinton, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis and Stevie Wonder, to name a few. He also appeared as a musician on Stevie Wonder’s “Spiritual Walker’s,” on the 1985 album “In Square Circle.”

After Birdsong stopped releasing his own music, he and twin brothers TaharQa and Tunde-Ra Aleem formed ABA Records and continued producing and mentoring other artists, namely DJ Marley Marl, X Clan and Harlem’s Teddy Riley, among others.

Although the musician, songwriter, producer, singer developed a strong following, he never achieved the commercial success his talents warranted. Hip-hop’s emergence during the ’80s/’90s reinvigorated his music, earning him a new fan base in the millions as his innovative songs were sampled by that era’s elite music producers, laying as the foundation of many classics and big hits.

Birdsong’s hypnotic funk can be found all over modern music’s most popular records by DJ Quik, Dr. Dre, Erykah Badu, Mary J Blige, Tupac, Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild and Mariah Carey.

His effect on various generations and genres was evident when Daft Punk sampled his “Cola Bottle Baby” for their 2001 hit, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.” Kanye West repeated in 2007.

In 2008 Birdsong won two Grammys for his contributions to Kanye’s and Daft Punk’s songs, for “Best Electronic/Dance Album” and “Best Dance Recording.”

In a 2017 interview with his nephew, Marlon Williams Jr., Birdsong expressed his surprise upon learning Daft Punk had sampled him: “I recorded it 30 years ago and here comes some guys from France. I asked them, ‘Where did you find the music?’ And they said, ‘I was going through bins and it popped out,’ and then Kanye West also sampled the same song, called it ‘Stronger.’ I’m blessed and I continue to be blessed by opening my arms to God every day.”

Family, loyalty and music were most important to Birdsong, who lives on through his children, other offspring and family members, music and the many lives he’s impacted. Asante sana Birdsong!