Jack Ashford, right, and Eddie Willis, surviving members of the Funk Brothers, attend a ceremony honoring the musicians with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on March 21 in Hollywood, California. (JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
A star was unveiled for Motown's Funk Brothers on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame this afternoon, with Motown luminaries including Stevie Wonder and Claudette Robinson on hand to pay tribute to the musicians whose backing instrumentals influenced several generations of rock and pop musicians.
The names of the Funk Brothers were announced by a member of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce as two of the surviving members, Eddie Willis and Jack Ashford, observed. The names called out at the ceremony were Richard "Pistol"Allen, Bob Babbitt, William "Benny" Benjamin, Eddie "Bongo" Brown, Johnnie Griffith, Joe Hunter, James Jamerson, Uriel Jones, Joe Messina, Robert White, Earl Van Dyke, Willis and Ashford.
Wonder was particularly close to the Funk Brothers, having practically grown up in Studio A, and he spoke about the skilled, worldly musicians who let a young boy run around the studio as a child and along the way, learn to play drums, keyboards and other instruments.
Playing a few bars of "Fingertips," his first hit, on the harmonica, Wonder said: "I thank every single one of the musicians you mentioned, as well as the producers, one who is here today, Mickey Stevenson, one of the first persons I met at Motown, as well as a young arranger, Paul Riser, who did string and horn arrangements."
Wonder used the occasion to call for more music education in schools.
"We can't just talk about the legacy. … We must do something even greater than that; we must continue the legacy by allowing the world to hear even more great musicians who need to be out there," he said.
Stevenson, Motown's A&R director until 1967, drew laughs when he said, "Look, it's hard to follow Stevie Wonder doing anything." He added: "The Funk Brothers, these guys were just magic, the gifts came from upstairs, but the touch they formed together. It's just magic, and I thank God for that, for us being at the right place at the right time, to make Motown music, some of the best music of all time."
The ceremony drew several hundred onlookers, reports Tom Schoenith, owner of the Roostertail, who happened to be staying at his Los Angeles home.
"I've been here for a bunch of these ceremonies, and this is a big crowd. I'm really surprised," Schoenith said.
The Roostertail was the site of many Motown performances in the 1960s, including "Motown Mondays," when a different act would be featured each week.
Also attending the ceremony were many family members of Funk Brothers who have passed on, including bassist James Jamerson's son, James Jamerson Jr., and widow Annie Jamerson; Joe Hunter Jr., son of Motown's first bandleader, Joe Hunter; and June Jones, widow of drummer Uriel Jones.
Guitarist Joe Messina couldn't be there, but he watched a livestream of the ceremony from his Metro Detroit home.