Bernie Worrell, an influential keyboardist who forged his sound while playing with George Clinton’s Parliament and Funkadelic bands, passed last Friday after battling stage four cancer. Mr. Worrell not only played with the legendary funk bands but toured with rock acts and more.
Worrell was born April 19, 1944 in Long Branch, New Jersey. A native of Plainfield, Worrell was a child prodigy who was classically trained on the piano and studied at Julliard and the New England Conservatory of Music. Worrell met Plainfield, N.J. native Clinton, who was a member of the Parliament doo-wop group in the early ’70’s.
As Clinton began shifting his sound to funk via Parliament and Funkadelic, Worrell was front and center. He used several keyboards and pianos but his work on electronic music pioneer Robert Moog’s synthesizers would prove to be part of his lasting contribution to the P Funk sound. Worrell was one of the first players to use a Moog synthesizer, later popularized by artists including Prince, George Duke, Herbie Hancock, Kraftwerk, Kool and the Gang and Donna Summer all used Bob Moog’s machines in their work.as part of the New Wave.
Parliament’s smash single “Flash Light” highlights Worrell’s playing style with the Mini-Moog changing the sound of R&B and modern music forever. Additionally, other singles like “Mothership Connection” and “Aqua Boogie” were bolstered by way of Worrell’s expert keyboard work.
After Parliament-Funkadelic went on hiatus from tours in the 80’s, Worrell found work as a side man for several acts and became an unofficial member of the rock band, Talking Heads. He also worked alongside reggae legends Sly & Robbie and is a direct influence on Hip-Hop producer Dr. Dre’s “G-Funk” sound that permeated the West Coast and Hip-Hop music for much of the ’90’s.
This past May, the New England Conservatory of Music awarded Worrell with an honorary Doctorate of Music degree. In 1997, he and other members of Parliament-Funkadelic were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Worrell was 72.