From Sly and the Family Stone to P-Funk, get to know funk music icon Dawn Silva in five songs

In this segment of 5 on 5, we sample five tracks from songstress and funk icon Dawn Silva.

Dawn Silva

Born and raised in Sacramento, California, Dawn Silva gravitated to music early on as she sang in a high school group called Windsong with her sister. Aware of her vocal abilities, local percussionist Michael Samuels informed Silva that Sly and the Family Stone was auditioning background vocalists for an upcoming solo album. Silva would do a session and after hearing it, they would hire her on the spot.

Listen to five essential tracks from Dawn Silva:

1. “Disco to Go” – Brides of Funkenstein

Silva would go on to do backing vocals for the albums Heard Ya Missed Me, Well I’m Back and High On You, as well as tour with Sly Stone as his collective shared stages with other tour acts such as Rufus & Chaka Khan, Frank Zappa and others.

Silva would be paired on background vocals with Stone’s cousin Lynn Mabry when they toured as special guests with Parliament-Funkadelic. However, Sly Stone would drop out of the tour after a few dates. Parliament-Funkadelic front man George Clinton would extend an offer to Silva and Mabry to join his band as background vocalists and they accepted.

Silva would make her debut contributing background vocals on P-Funk music projects across the Clinton roster including Eddie Hazel’s Games, Dames and Guitar Thangs, the Fred Wesley & the Horny Horns cover of “Up for the Down Stroke,” and various others.

Silva proved to be an essential member of the P-Funk empire dropping vocals on many of their iconic albums of the time. But Clinton had more in mind for Silva and her background vocalist partner Lynn Mabry – a spinoff band of their own, The Brides of Funkenstein, the name deriving from a storyline and characters from the P-Funk album The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein.

Silva learned of this new venture a week before they were signed to Atlantic Records as production ensued on their debut album. Produced by George Clinton, the duo dropped ethereal vocals atop a selection of instrumental outtakes from both the P-Funk and Bootsy Collins musical archives. Funk or Walk would debut to critical acclaim in 1978.

The track “Disco To Go” reached #7 on the Billboard R&B chart and sold over 500,000 units attaining Gold status in the U.S., while reaching platinum status in Europe and Asia. The duo would become a fixture as the opening act for P-Funk, while also performing with them during the shows.

2. “Just Like You” – Brides of Funkenstein

In an industry where the men held the power and spotlight, the duo would hold their own with their trademark note perfect harmonies atop deep funk grooves. They proved to be skilled, multifaceted vocalists with stage presence to boot. Their versatility extended to ballads, as heard on the track “Just Like You.”

3. “Never Buy Texas from a Cowboy” – Brides of Funkenstein

Even though the Brides would make their mark as one of the most unique acts in the P-Funk empire, Lynn Mabry would leave the group in 1979. This would prompt Silva to pick up the torch and invite vocalists Sheila Horne and Jeanette McGruder on as background Bridesmaids and they would go on to sing with Silva on the sophomore album release, Never Buy Texas from a Cowboy.

Once again grounded in strong, soulful and funky harmonies, this iteration of the Brides would receive the Cashbox Rhythm & Blues award for best female artist, beating out The Pointer Sisters, Sister Sledge and Cheryl Lynn while earning numerous plaudits throughout the industry.

By this time, the Brides would be purveyors of funk but also branch their sound off into new genres such as punk-rock and new wave. The release was later named on Rolling Stone’s list of 50 Coolest Albums of All Time and garnered a worldwide cult following that continues to grow with the passage of time.

4. “Close To You” – Dawn Silva

By the early 1980s, Parliament-Funkadelic was in flux, beset by a bevy of financial and creative issues and a revolving door of artists. This impacted all the acts who made up the movement, and although the Brides continued to tour, they would disband in 1981.

Silva would land on her feet when she connected with The Gap Band as a background vocalist from 1982 to 1991, making her studio debut on the group’s 1983 album, The Gap Band V: Jammin’.

She would also become known as an accomplished session vocalist and studio wizard. She would enjoy numerous collaborative experiences during this time, most notably with Roy Ayers, Crystal Waters and Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, as well as hip-hop artists Del The Funky Homosapien, Coolio and Ice Cube, all while continuing to work on her own material.

Polygram records would sign her to a recording deal and planned to release an album, but like most record companies of the time, didn’t know what to do with the project, which eventually got shelved. These experiences would lay the seeds for Silva to take control of her own destiny. She would disappear from public view for a time throughout the mid-1990s, and later re-emerge as CEO of her own record label and release her debut album independently. All My Funky Friends would drop in December 2000, and was subsequently hailed as an instant funk classic as it married Contemporary R&B with authentic funk music.

The album would be a worldwide underground sensation, exciting audiences in Europe and Asia while carrying the torch for a genre that was under the radar in the Americas. Tower Records called the masterwork the “most authentic funk album to be released in over two decades.”

This would rekindle interest in the Brides of Funkenstein and prompt Silva to reunite various iterations of the group to do select and intermittent tour dates.

The interest in Silva’s work would yield another major development – her foray into the world of book publishing. She would start her own publishing company, New Rising Publishing and release an ambitious memoir titled “The Funk Queen: An Autobiography.” The 500-page deluxe coffee table style publication chronicles the full range of her recording career and her experiences in the groups Sly and the Family Stone, Parliament-Funkadelic, Brides of Funkenstein and The Gap Band as well as her solo work.

5. “As Long As It’s On The One” – Dawn Silva

It reads as an essential history of funk music as her career dovetails with many key moments in the genre while also detailing her struggles and ultimate triumphs in being a woman of color in a male-dominated industry. Silva still records, tours, makes appearances promoting her book and serves as a powerful advocate for the equality of women in the music industry.

Silva’s legacy is far-ranging. Sly and the Family Stone taught her the art of performing. As part of the P-Funk empire, her voice can be heard starting with the Mothership live album, and virtually every hit record during the collective’s golden era.

As co-founder and leader of the Brides of Funkenstein, she was part of one of the most unique harmonic pairings in music industry history that would later influence acts like like Vanity 6, Mary Jane Girls and Macy Gray as well as generations of funk music lovers.

Silva’s solo album would crystalize her status as a global funk queen and ambassador of the highest order while also keeping the genre alive at the turn of the century, when there weren’t many acts doing funk music.

Silva is an artist who proved to be a triple threat — songwriter, producer and talent. She has been in the trenches to cultivate a worldwide following of funk soldiers who have “kept it on the one” and we’re all the better for it.

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