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Celebrating Black Music Month: A Tribute to Slave, the Supergroup of Funk

As we honor Black Music Month, it's fitting to celebrate the influential yet often underappreciated band, Slave. An Ohio-based funk band that redefined the genre in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Slave was once considered a supergroup, blending exceptional talent with innovative sounds.

Slave's journey began in 1975 when trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist Steve Washington, hailing from East Orange, New Jersey, teamed up with trombonist Floyd Miller in Dayton, Ohio. Washington, one of the pioneers of the "electric trumpet," brought a unique sonic element to the group.

The original lineup included Tom Lockett Jr. on tenor and alto sax, Carter Bradley on keyboards, Mark Adams on bass, Mark "Drac" Hicks on lead and rhythm guitar and background vocals, Danny Webster on rhythm and lead guitar and lead and background vocals, Orion "Bimmy" Wilhoite on alto and tenor sax, and Tim "Tiny" Dozier on drums.

Slave's breakout hit came in 1977 with "Slide," released under Cotillion Records. This track, characterized by its infectious groove and tight musicianship, became a defining anthem of the funk genre. The band's sound evolved in 1978 with the addition of drummer/percussionist Steve Arrington, vocalists Starleana Young and Curt Jones, and keyboardist Ray Turner. Arrington's dynamic presence eventually led him to replace Miller and Webster as the lead vocalist, steering Slave to new creative heights.

"Men have been enslaving men for as long as we've had gods to hide behind," Craig said. "Every man is a slave to what we love – whether it be women, drugs, music or sports. Through art we are all equals".

Slave's success continued with a series of top ten R&B hits, including "Just a Touch of Love" in 1979, "Watching You" in 1980, and "Snap Shot" in 1981. These tracks showcased the band's ability to blend catchy hooks with complex rhythms, cementing their status in the funk pantheon. The band's lineup saw further changes with the addition of Charles Carter on saxophone and his brother Sam Carter on keyboards, enriching their sound.

In 1981, a significant shift occurred when Starleana Young, Steve Washington, Curt Jones, and Tom Lockett departed to form the band Aurra. Despite these changes, Slave continued to innovate, bringing in new talents like Roger Parker, Delbert Taylor Jr., and Kevin Johnson. However, another pivotal moment came in 1982 when Steve Arrington left to form Steve Arrington's Hall of Fame, taking Charles and Sam Carter with him.

Despite these departures, Slave persisted. They moved to Atlantic Records for one LP, "New Plateau," in 1984 and then to the Atlanta-based Ichiban Records the following year, releasing "Unchained at Last" in late 1985. While these albums featured some minor hits on the R&B charts, they couldn't replicate the commercial success of their earlier years.

The band's legacy was solidified with the release of "Stellar Fungk: The Best of Slave Featuring Steve Arrington," an anthology issued by Rhino Records in 1994. This compilation highlighted the band's finest cuts and ensured that their groundbreaking contributions to funk music would not be forgotten.

Slave's impact on the music world extends beyond their chart-topping hits. They were pioneers in the use of electric instruments, and their fusion of funk with other genres influenced countless artists. Their music continues to be celebrated for its innovation, energy, and enduring appeal.

As we celebrate Black Music Month, we honor Slave not only for their contributions to funk but also for their role in the broader tapestry of Black music. They remind us of the power of innovation and the lasting influence of artists who dare to push the boundaries of their craft. Slave's legacy is a testament to the richness and diversity of Black music, and their story deserves to be celebrated for generations to come.


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