The Black Panther Party Had a Funk Band Called ‘The Lumpen’


Band members L to R: James Mott, Bill Calhoun, Michael Torrance, Clark Bailey.
Image: Ducho Dennnis/ It’s About Time Archives

Over at  Studio 360, Nishat Kurwa has a great piece up about a new book out called “Party Music” by musicologist Rickey Vincent that explores the history of the Black Panther Party’s funk band, “The Lumpen” — a name that comes from Karl Marx’s “lumpenproleteriat.”

But, as Kurwa explains, there was a lot more to the band than its predictable name:

Calhoun wrote some original songs, but time was tight. “I wasn’t able to write quickly enough to keep up with demand.” So the band would take hits and rewrite the lyrics to fit the revolution the Panthers were striving for. “Instead of saying ‘Dance to the music,’ it was, ‘Power to the people!'” remembers James Mott, one of the Lumpen members. They took Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” which says “You don’t need a ticket, you just get on board,” and changed the phrase to “You don’t need a ticket, you need a loaded gun.”

Finally, they went into a studio and made their one and only recording, “Free Bobby Now” — listen to the song below. (Bobby Seale, the Black Panther Party’s co-founder, was serving four years on a charge of contempt of court.) “I made pancakes, I sold papers, I did all kinds of things, but that was our singular contribution,” Calhoun said, to spread the message beyond the true believers. “If you won’t come to a rally, I’ll sing it to you, how’s that?”

Read more at Studio 360

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