Two inspirational icons in the music industry celebrated their success in a big way on Saturday, November 5th at the Grammy Museum in the heart of downtown LA. “Both Felton Pilate and Michael Cooper who are original members of the Funk group known as Confunkshun, were surrounded by friends, family, and fans from all over the world when they were pleasantly surprised with not one, but two types of awards that recognized them as pillars of inspiration to the entertainment industry and communities from far and wide.
Confunkshun is an American R&B and funk band whose popularity began in the mid-1970s and ran through the 1980s. Influences included Earth, Wind & Fire; Commodores; Chaka Khan; and Sly and the Family Stone. Recently Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, the magical duo that is known as Silk Sonic, covered the ConFunkShun ballad, “Love’s Train.” The original song was released by the band 40 years ago and both Michael Cooper and Felton Pilate are credited with writing it. Silk Sonic’s cover of the song went to #1 on the Billboard chart for over 15 weeks. This sparked an even bigger fire for Confunkshun in the entertainment industry, inspired more touring for the group, and cultivated more fans from all walks of life and ages.
In a recent interview with Pilate and Cooper, they shared a little more about their personal history along with their thoughts and feelings surrounding receiving two major awards for their accomplishments. Both men proudly wear the title of doctor now and were very open, honest, and transparent about their collective journey to success over the years.
Dr. Pilate, take us down memory lane and tell us a little bit about the dynamics of the friendship you developed with Dr. Cooper.
I met Michael Cooper about 54 years ago. We started as competitors. We both had our own bands and I imagine we were both striving to be “the best”. His band was playing more funk and R&B while mine leaned toward a more experimental, softer direction…a 16-year-old’s version of “smooth jazz”. In retrospect, we learned the songs we were able to play at our limited abilities and we just made it work, learning as we went. One of the most significant turning points in my life was when he asked me to join *his* band. Working alongside Michael has been a rewarding and valuable journey, and I truly believe that it was and still is a combination of our sometimes conflicting musical viewpoints that defines our sound. The fact that our literal survival was depending on our musical success (or not), was an additional motivation for staying focused and working together. Having shared roofs, meals, transportation, trials, tribulations, joys, and heartaches together is woven into our lives and it can be heard in our music. Everything we have learned from each other is there in our songs, whether we’re recording as ConFunkShun or as individuals.
Dr. Cooper, what were your thoughts on what Dr. Pilate could offer your group at that time over five decades ago?
It has been an honor and a pleasure to work with such a talented individual for 50-plus years.
I’d like to say even as a young man in his late teens I was acutely aware of the need to associate with and combine efforts with those who just might be more knowledgeable than myself in the field of music. I realized as a self-taught musician that there could be many gaps and holes in what was needed to move forward into the professional realm. I was aware of Felton Pilate’s abilities and tenacity in music. I knew that if we were to proceed down the road to success that we would need to incorporate his training and his wisdom into our group at the time known as Project Soul. His smooth and disciplined approach to music was the perfect complement to my gritty and sometimes unorthodox ways and approach to a chord and melody. There were many times we would not agree but our referee was God Almighty. We would always find a way to create a radio hit or at the very least extremely strong album material. We have ridden in the back of trucks coast to coast, tour buses, eaten out of the same bucket of chicken, slept on floors, all in the making of the group Confunkshun. It has been a great and powerfully rewarding run of “Fun”.
Dr. Pilate, you celebrated your seventieth birthday on Saturday, November 5th with a huge red-carpet celebration at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. That night you were surprisingly presented with two major awards. Tell us the thoughts you have surrounding that monumental moment.
I have spent the majority of my life involved with music in some way…listening to it, playing it, or creating it. When music became my only source of income, my only goal or expectation was to do stuff that people would like. When I was nominated for a Grammy® for producing Album of the Year, I, of course, hoped that I would win, but the reality is that I was shocked to even be acknowledged much less actually *nominated*. I see this Presidential Lifetime Achievement the exact same way. I’m surprised and humbled to have even been considered, much less to actually have one pinned on me! To describe it as a treasure doesn’t even begin to express its value to me.
How did you feel at the very moment you received the awards on stage in the Clive Davis theater full of your family, friends, fans, and media?
Confusion, shock, disbelief…when it became clear what was happening, I had to turn my back to the audience for a moment to try to control and hide the tears…it didn’t work, I was overwhelmed with emotion. At the Grammys® and Oscars®, people who are nominated know that there is a CHANCE that they might win so they’re able to prepare a speech ahead of time. I, on the other hand, had no idea whatsoever, so I was temporarily speechless. However, I was able to tell the audience after a few moments, “I can’t wait for someone to ask me what I got for my birthday. “
Dr. Cooper, so many thoughts must have been running through your mind standing on that stage with Dr. Pilate on his birthday. Describe how you felt once you knew what was happening.
I must say I was completely caught off guard by the presentations and all the preparation for the event that I thought was only a birthday celebration for Felton. It turned out to be far, far more than I could have imagined. To be presented with a Doctorate degree for my work and contributions to music was completely overwhelming to me. The title of Doctor will take some time to get used to. Next, receiving from the White House, The Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award signed by Joseph R. Biden was unbelievable and overpowering!
Dr. Pilate, throughout your musical career with Confunkshun and equally as a solo artist, you have held a strong belief in paying it forward. Why is it important for you to help cultivate and inspire the younger generation of musicians?
Sharing what I’ve learned on both sides of the recording console has always felt like what’s supposed to happen…and not just for me. I believe that it is our responsibility to give back as much as we can. I have enjoyed working with students who were passionate about learning. Some have even become award-winning producers themselves. It makes me feel good to know that I was able to help nurture their gifts and talents.
Dr. Cooper, would you like to share anything else about the experience of receiving an honorary doctorate and a Lifetime Achievement award alongside your fellow comrade Dr. Pilate?
This will be a great compliment to the Silk Sonic Loves Train finale of my upcoming book!
On behalf of my wife Marion, my children, and my grandchildren, I say a very heartfelt thank you for this honor and I will wear it close to my heart for all the days I walk this planet.
Dr. Pilate, I know your seventieth birthday is one you will have very fond and vivid memories of. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
I’m unbelievably thankful to receive an honorary doctorate and Lifetime Achievement award. I wish my deceased mother, father, and sister could have been there to see it happen. Most see it as an acknowledgment of what I have done. I see it as a guiding light for what remains for me to do.
A heartfelt thank you to my beautiful wife, Jennifer for pulling off not one but two very elegant events which changed my life forever. I would also like to thank my publicist, Desirae L. Benson, for all of the support given to Jennifer to make this night special, but mostly for she and Jennifer’s work to make these honors happen. Last, I’d like to thank Dr. Moshe Lewis for all of his assistance! The three of you make a wonderful team!
To watch a video recap of the “Intimate Evening With Felton Pilate” visit: https://youtu.be/p1sBGZnmvn4
To learn more about Confunkshun, visit: http://www.confunkshunusa.com
Photo Credit: Donna Dymally Photography