Detroit, MI (CBS Detroit) – In this, our second installment of the celebration of Motown, Lisa Germani sits down with Beth Griffith-Manley, daughter of legendary Funk Brother Johnny Griffith. As a member of the Funk Brothers, the house band at Motown Records, Griffith helped create one of popular music’s most recognizable acoustic palettes.
“It’s really weird when I tell people this story,” explains Beth Griffith-Manley. “But by the time I was born, my father was no longer with Motown anymore, he had already left and gone to Los Angeles. So I didn’t know anything about my father being a Funk Brother, and I knew nothing about Motown”.
Born in Detroit, Johnny Griffith played keyboards for Motown Records’ in-house studio band called The Funk Brothers, a racially integrated group of about a dozen top jazz and R&B musicians in Detroit who worked at Motown from 1959 to 1972. Griffith most notably played electric piano on Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and The Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” the swirling organ on the Supremes’ “Stop in the Name of Love,” and the organ and shotgun effects on Junior Walker and the All-Stars’ “Shotgun.”
“As I grew up, I knew my father played the piano, I knew my father was a musician. And I would often hear people say ‘oh yeah, that’s Johnny and he worked with Motown’. I heard it, but I had no idea what they meant.”
“I knew what Motown music was, I knew who the artists were growing up, of course. I knew Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, and The Supremes…I knew who they were. But I still never knew the significance of what my father did for Motown and the part that he played. I did not really know that until I was well into my 20’s.”
Johnny Griffith died of a heart attack in a Detroit hospital on November 10, 2002, at 66 years old. He passed away just hours before the local premiere of “Standing in the Shadows of Motown,” a documentary film that gives belated recognition to the anonymous studio band that furnished much of the instrumental sound for the Motown hit machine.
“I’m still learning and it is absolutely a dream story of how Motown started, and how it evolved and how so many great artists came out of that. Motown has impacted American and international music, there is nowhere that you can go and you don’t hear a Motown song. I am a proud daughter of a Funk Brother, I will say that.”
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