The Black Panther Party Had a Funk Band Called ‘The Lumpen’
Band members L to R: James Mott, Bill Calhoun, Michael Torrance, Clark Bailey. Ducho Dennnis/ It’s About Time Archives
The Lumpen performing at Merritt College, 1970. Left to right: James Mott, Michael Torrance, and Clark Bailey. (Ducho Dennis, courtesy of It’s About Time Archives)
The heyday of soul and classic R&B is full of socially conscious empowerment anthems: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” “People Get Ready,” “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” But the stars didn’t get involved in radical politics. (James Brown, rather infamously, supported Richard Nixon and performed at his inaugural ball.) So when Emory Douglas, the Black Panther Party’s Minister of Culture, heard Bill Calhoun and his friends singing harmony, he had an idea: a revolutionary black power singing group, complete with dance routines and costumes.
The band was called the Lumpen, from Karl Marx’s lumpenproletariat. That may be the least funky band name ever, but Calhoun knew…
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