Legendary P-Funk Keyboardist Bernie Worrell Dies at 72

P-Funk co-founder and keyboardist Bernie Worrell has died at the age of 72.

In early 2016, Worrell’s wife Judie Worrell disclosed via Facebook that he was suffering with stage-four lung cancer.

As one of the architects of Parliament-Funkadelic, a collective of more than 50 musicians, Worrell, along with George Clinton, promoted a distinctive funk style that has had a massive influence on other musical genres.

“The pioneering work of Parliament and Funkadelic in the Seventies—driven by Clinton’s conceptually inventive mind and the band members’ tight ensemble playing and stretched-out jamming prefigured everything from rap and hip-hop to techno and alternative,” said the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which inducted Worrell and the original members of P-Funk in 1997.

When the synthesizers came about, my having been brought up classically and knowing a full range of orchestra, tympanis and everything, I knew how it sounded and what it felt like"

Born April 19, 1944, Worrell grew up Plainfield, New Jersey. A musical child prodigy, by the age of 3 he was studying piano and by age 8 had written his first concerto. The virtuoso took lessons at Julliard School of Music, before entering the New England Conservatory of Music. Worrell credits that classical training for his wizardry on the keyboard.

"When the synthesizers came about, my having been brought up classically and knowing a full range of orchestra, tympanis and everything, I knew how it sounded and what it felt like,” he once said. So, if I'm playing a horn arrangement on keyboard, or strings, it sounds like strings or horns, 'cause I know how to phrase it, how a string phrases, different attacks from the aperture for horns, trumpets, sax or trombones."

As a college student, Worrell played in a few bar bands until he met Clinton in 1970, who was in a doo-wop group called the Parliaments. Inspired by psychedelic rock bands such as Sly and the Family Stone and Cream, Worrell hooked up with Clinton, moved to Detroit and formed Parliament-Funkadelic. The super group went on to score more than 40 R&B hit singles and three platinum albums. Worrell co-wrote and co-produced many of those hits, including "Flashlight," "Atomic Dog," "Aqua Boogie," "Cosmic Slop" and "Red Hot Mama.”

By the time the early '80s rolled around, Worrell joined new wavers Talking Heads as a session player, touring with the band throughout the '80s. He also completed a number of solo projects, working with the likes of Keith Richards, the Pretenders, Jack Bruce, Deee-Lite and Bootsy's New Rubber Band. Hip-hop artists like Digital Underground, De La Soul, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube have built music around Worrell’s signature riffs, making Worrell one of the most sampled musicians ever.

In his last days, Worrell continued to groove, working on “Retrospectives," a new solo album funded by a successful Indiegogo campaign. The campaign was started shortly before his late-stage cancer was announced.

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