Bernie Worrell, legendary Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist, has died at age 72 after battling stage-4 lung cancer for several months. Worrell was one of the most famous and acclaimed members of the P-Funk collective, having contributed his distinctive keyboard hooks to classics like “Flash Light” and “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker.)”
His family confirmed his death on Worrell’s Facebook page.
“AT 11:54, June 24, 2016, Bernie transitioned Home to The Great Spirit,” said the statement. “Rest in peace, my love — you definitely made the world a better place. Till we meet again, vaya con Dios.”
Aside from his distinctive keyboard playing, Worrell was a multi-instrumentalist during Parliament-Funkadelic’s glory years throughout the 1970s. Worrell’s experimental approach to keys and synths helped give P-Funk it’s distinctive sound, with his accents providing the melodic hook of hits like “Flash Light” or flourishes to tracks like “Mothership Connection” and “P-Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up.)” Worrell’s use of the mini-Moog (most funk bands used electronic pianos in the 1970s) gave George Clinton’s crew an otherworldly feel–building on the Moog use of 60s acts and predicting the synth approach that funk bands would take into the 1980s.
Worrell’s distinctive playing would also be featured on albums and tours from a wide-range of artists in the 1980s and 1990s. Worrell played with Fela Kuti, Talking Heads, Sly & Robbie, and Gov’t Mule. He famously appeared in Talking Heads’ classic concert film Stop Making Sense; and would form supergroups like Black Jack Johnson (with Yasiin Bey/Mos Def, Will Calhoun, Doug Wimbish of Living Colour and Bad Brains guitarist Dr. Know); Baby Elephant with Prince Paul and Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains with Primus bassist Les Claypool, guitarist Buckhethead and drummer Bryan Mantia.
He performed with his Bernie Worrell Orchestra; which often featured a cadre of guest stars ranging from Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads, Rah Digga and Jimmy Destri of Blondie.
A tribute and benefit concert for Worrell’s cancer treatment was held in April. The event was produced by the Black Rock Coalition and featuring artists who’d collaborated with the legendary keyboardist or were influenced by Worrell’s music.