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Wed, 04.19.1944

Bernie Worrell, Keyboardist, Producer born

Bernie Worrell

*Bernard Worrell was born on this date in 1944.  He was a Black keyboardist and record producer.  

George Bernard Worrell, Jr. was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, and grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey, where his family moved when he was eight. A musical prodigy, he began formal piano lessons by age three and wrote a concerto at eight. He studied at the Juilliard School and received a degree from the New England Conservatory of Music in 1967. As a college student, Worrell played with a group called Chubby & The Turnpikes; this ensemble eventually evolved into Tavares.

After meeting George Clinton, leader of a Plainfield-based doo-wop group called The Parliaments, Worrell, Clinton, The Parliaments, and their backing band, Funkadelic, moved to Detroit, Michigan; thereafter, both groups became collectively known as Parliament-Funkadelic. During the 1970s, the same group of musicians was separately recorded under the names Parliament and Funkadelic (among several others) but toured as P-Funk. Worrell played the grand piano, Wurlitzer electric piano, Hohner Clavinet, Hammond B3 organ, ARP String Ensemble, and Moog synthesizer co-wrote and wrote horn and rhythm arrangements on hit recordings for both groups and other associated bands under the "Parliafunkadelicment Thang" production company.

His most notable performances were recorded with Bootsy's Rubber Band, Parlet, The Brides of Funkenstein, and The Horny Horns. Worrell recorded a 1978 solo album, All the Woo in the World, with the musical backing of P-Funk's members. While funk musicians traditionally utilized electric keyboards, such as the Hammond organ and Fender Rhodes electric piano, Worrell was the second recipient of the Moog synthesizer created by Bob Moog. Mainly responsible for creating Parliament's futuristic sound, Worrell's use of the Minimoog bass heavily influenced the sound of R&B music. It served as a bridge between American R&B and the new wave, new age, and techno insurgence.

He used the ARP Pro Soloist as well. Worrell played synthesizer and digital keyboard on P funk songs throughout the 1970s, most notably "Mothership Connection (Star Child)" and "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)" from Mothership Connection (1975) and "Aqua Boogie" from Motor Booty Affair (1978).  When Parliament-Funkadelic took a hiatus from touring in the early 1980s, Worrell was recruited to perform and record with Talking Heads.  Worrell can be seen in the band's concert film Stop Making Sense. Notably, Worrell was invited to perform with Talking Heads as part of their 2002 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  In 1983, Worrell provided keyboard parts for Mtume's hit song "Juicy Fruit." 

From the late 1980s through the 2010s, Worrell recorded extensively with Bill Laswell.  Through the beginning of the 21st century, he became a visible member of the jam band scene, performing in many large summer music festivals, sometimes billed as Bernie Worrell and the Woo Warriors. He appeared on several Jack Bruce albums.  Worrell was a founding member of the CBS Orchestra when the Late Show with David Letterman launched in August 1993, playing lead synthesizer. Worrell departed in November when the orchestra added a horn section.  In 1994, Worrell appeared on the Red Hot Organization's compilation album, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool. The album was meant to raise awareness and funds supporting HIV/AIDS and was heralded as "Album of the Year" by TIME Magazine.  

Worrell joined the rock group Blackjack Johnson with bass legend Les Claypool, guitarist Buckethead and drummer Bryan Mantia to form the group Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains.  In 2009, he joined longtime Parliament-Funkadelic guitarist DeWayne "Blackbyrd" McKnight to form the band SociaLybrium. Their album For You/For Us/For All was released in January 2010.  Worrell appeared in the 2004 documentary film Moog with synthesizer pioneer Bob Moog and several other Moog synthesizer musicians. In 2011, he toured with Bootsy Collins.  

From 2011 through 2015, Worrell performed with his group, the Bernie Worrell Orchestra.  Worrell worked on the Seattle-based Khu.éex project, and in 2015, he appeared in the movie Ricki and the Flash as the keyboard player in Meryl Streep's band.  Worrell was a judge for the 12th, 13th, and 14th annual Independent Music Awards.  In 2016, the New England Conservatory of Music gave Worrell an honorary Doctor of Music degree.  In January 2016, Worrell was diagnosed with a "mild form" of prostate cancer, stage-four liver cancer, and stage-four lung cancer.  He relocated to Bellingham, Washington.  

A tribute and benefit concert to raise funds for Worrell's cancer treatment occurred on April 4 and 5, 2016.  Judie Worrell stated on Facebook on June 16, 2016, to friends and family, "I was just told that Bernie is now headed 'Home.'" She encouraged people close to Worrell to "visit him to say your goodbyes" and added that he is too ill to speak on the phone or text.” Bernie Worrell, best known as a founding member of Parliament-Funkadelic, died at his home in Everson, Washington, on June 24, 2016, at 72. His wife stated that "Bernie transitioned Home to The Great Spirit. Rest in peace, my love—you made the world better. Till we meet again, Vaya con Dios."  Following his death, guitarist Buckethead created a tribute song: 'Space Viking.' Buckethead published it in his 'Pike' series as part of Pike 245. The song was captioned: "To Bernie Worrell, The Greatest Music Maker Of All."

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