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Arts & Culture

Howard Burchette Serves Up Groovy Beats And History Every Week On 'The Funk Show'

Howard Burchette sitting in front of a microphone with a WNCU flag on it
Courtesy of Howard Burchette
Radio host Howard Burchette sitting at the board where the magic happens for his weekly program 'The Funk Show.'

Every Saturday evening for more than 15 years, Howard Burchette has hit the airwaves in Durham with a playlist of iconic tunes and interviews with masters of funk. On “The Funk Show” on WNCU, Burchette interweaves dance-worthy songs with stories from greats like Bobby Byrd, Chuck Brown and Bettye Lavette. 

The part-DJ, part-historian joins host Frank Stasio to share some of his favorite funk memories and the music that accompanies them. You can hear Burchette on 90.7 WNCU in Durham every Saturday from 4 to 7 p.m., or you can stream the show live on their website.

Interview Highlights

On how to define funk music:

In my opinion, the funk is R&B. R&B is soul, and they're all the same thing. … All of these different musics are just different branches of the tree that, honestly, that African Americans have created from gospel, the blues, rock and roll, rhythm and blues — which is soul music — and the funk. Now, if you asked I think six people: What is the definition of funk? They'll probably give you six different answers.

Something happened in 1970. Jimi Hendrix died. And what I saw, what I witnessed after Hendrix's death — all of these groups started imitating Jimi Hendrix... and that's how I saw the funk come together.



album cover featuring a black woman with an afro in an amazing costume
Credit Courtesy of Howard Burchette
Durham native Betty Davis, whom Burchette calls the 'High Priestess of Funk.'

On Betty Davis, Durham native:

I call her the High Priestess of Funk because she was out there on her own. She wasn't really played highly on Black radio back during that time because her style of music wasn't like Motown. It wasn't like — it wasn't dance music. It was pure funk.

a black-and-white photo of three Black singers in tuxedos
Credit Courtesy of Howard Burchette
Bobby Byrd and the Famous Flames, the group that discovered James Brown.

On how Bobby Byrd discovered James Brown:

[Byrd’s family] signed James Brown out [of reform school], and he slept in the same bed. He literally became his brother. They incorporated James Brown into their family group, the Gospel Starlighters. And they taught James Brown how to play the drums. … And then James Brown became the drummer in his group The Famous Flames. And they got a recording contract at King Records, which was “Please, Please, Please,” and they had James sing lead on that one. And the rest is history.

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