Funk Keyboardist Edwin Birdsong Dies at 77

Billboard News 1/23/19

Birdsong was sampled by DJ Premier, Daft Punk and De La Soul.

Edwin Birdsong, the 1970s funk and jazz keyboardist whose songs earned a second life via samples by Daft Punk, De La Soul and Gang Starr, has died at 77.

Birdsong’s death on Monday (Jan. 21) was confirmed by his son, Singh Birdsong, and ex-wife, Angela Birdsong, with the latter writing, “sad to hear of the Passing of my ex-husand and father of my son.”

Edwin Birdsong was born on Aug. 22, 1941, in Los Angeles. Following a stint in Vietnam, he moved to New York, where he began developing his unique jazz/funk hybrid, signing to Polydor Records in 1971 and releasing his debut, What It Is, in 1972, followed up by Supernatural in 1973. Birdsong’s jazz-influenced playing on songs such as 1979’s “Phiss-Phizz” and co-writing and co-producing alongside funk/soul icon Roy Ayers earned him cult status.

Though his work failed to top charts, its influence sprouted in the ensuing decades when hip-hop and dance artists began discovering his incessantly funky rhythms, with 1979’s “Cola Bottle Baby” getting sampled on Daft Punk’s 2001 hit single “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” which was, in turn, sampled by Kanye West on 2007’s “Stronger.” Other acts who’ve sampled his work include A Tribe Called Quest — who used the Birdsong-produced “Running Away” (1977) on 1989’s “Description of a Fool” — as well De La Soul, who used 1980’s “Rapper Dapper Snapper” for their iconic “Me Myself and I,” Madlib, Erykah Badu and Gang Starr.

In a 2017 inteview, Birdsong — who also appeared on “Spiritual Walkers” on Stevie Wonder’s 1985 In Square Circle album — discussed his surprise when he heard about Daft Punk’s sample, saying, “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.”


%d bloggers like this: