Music fans of a certain age will remember the musical sounds of George Clinton – known as the godfather of funk. But some younger people might not know that Clinton is the second most sampled musician in history behind James Brown.
Some of those youngsters were lucky enough to meet Clinton on Thursday as he returned to his alma mater at Avon Avenue Elementary School in Newark to celebrate his 80th birthday. Freshmen and sophomores lined the halls to welcome Clinton, and a group of teachers and students helped him bring the funk like no one else could.
“I’m not going to sit here and try to tell you how happy I am, because I’m suffocated,” Clinton said.
It was an opportunity for the town and the school to honor their famous alumnus. And it was a chance for Clinton to bring the love back to where he started impersonating doo-wopper Frankie Lymon in fifth grade on the after-school playground.
It was the start of a career that would propel Clinton’s bands, Parliament and Funkadelic, into musical history and become the basis for much of the rock ‘n’ roll, R&B and hip hop that would follow. .
Clinton received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
“I am overwhelmed. I feel so good I want to jump up and scream,” Clinton said of the Avon Avenue School celebration. “I dreamed of those years, just being able to go back to Avon Avenue School and come to that music hall. It’s overwhelming,” Clinton said.
Clinton then cut the ribbon for the renamed George Clinton Band Room, which was outfitted with newly donated equipment. He then admired a new mural by Newark artist Steve Green.
“Our vision is that we will develop capable leaders who will have a positive impact on their community and the world, and that’s exactly what he has done,” says Charity Haygood, director of Avon.
Haygood says Clinton is an example for students. During that time, he says the kids taught him a few new things about music.
“Kids have new music all the time. The music that gets on your nerves is always new music,” Clinton said. “So if you pay attention to the kids, they will always deliver to you. You don’t have to be as old as you think if you let them do their thing and it makes you feel fresh again.
Honors for Clinton continued in Plainfield where he worked as a barber for several years with Passaic Street being renamed after him.
The celebration ends Friday night with the anniversary grand finale – a performance by Clinton and Parliament and Funkadelic at NJPAC in Newark.