Life & Legacy
August 22, 1941 - January 21, 2019
Producer, songwriter, and organist Edwin Birdsong is the anonymous genius behind some of jazz-funk’s most cosmic moments. Birdsong was an accomplished solo artist, as well as a prolific session musician and producer who worked with the likes of Stevie Wonder and Roy Ayers. Years later, his music would be sampled by an array of artists, most notably Daft Punk, who tweaked Birdsong’s 1979 cut Cola Bottle Baby for their 2001 song, Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger which was later sampled by Kanye West on Stronger. Birdsong’s 1980 track Rapper Dapper Snapper has also been sampled by numerous hip-hop artists. De La Soul first used the cut for their 1989 hit Me Myself and I, while DJ Premier later used it on Gang Starr’s 2003 track, Skillz.
The son of a minister, Birdsong got his start in music as a piano player and singer in the Los Angeles Community Choir, meeting such luminaries as Merry Clayton and Billy Preston. He also learned how to play jazz organ and honed his skill when he moved to Germany as an army serviceman during the Vietnam War. After returning to the United States, Birdsong relocated to New York City and studied music and composition at the Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard.
In partnership with Roy Ayers, the publishing company Ayer-Bird Music was created. The LP Ubiquity, would be a milestone recording for both. The exploratory sound of Pretty Brown Skin and Hummin, sampled by Kendrick Lamar on Celebration, worked like a template for the pair’s future explorations into cosmic jazz-funk.
In 1971, Birdsong signed with Polydor and his debut LP, What It Is, was released. Drawing heavily on the social and political issues of the time, it sat comfortably next to LPs like Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On and Gil Scott-Heron’s Pieces of a Man.
In 1973, Birdsong returned with his second LP, Super Natural and furthered his musical partnership with Ayers, penning the classic title track of the Red, Black & Green album. Two years later, Dance of Survival was released which became a cornerstone of astral soul.
The 1976 Roy Ayers Ubiquity LP Vibrations would see Birdsong join Ayers as co-arranger and producer as well as writer of The Memory. The 1977 LP Lifeline, which included Running Away, was Ayers’s most famous song apart from Everybody Loves the Sunshine. It was not only cowritten by Birdsong, the track also featured his vocals up front in the mix. Another Ayers and Birdsong collaboration that tore up dance floors worldwide was Freaky Deaky, which would appear on Ayers’s Let’s Do It LP.
Birdsong's self tilted LP released in 1979 proved to be his most heavily sampled which featured Cola Bottle Baby. Two years later, his final LP Funtaztik was released. The single Rapper Dapper Snapper, was most famously sampled by De La Soul's Me Myself and I.
Whether cutting tracks with Marley Marl, being sampled by Daft Punk, or mentoring artist like Funkghost, Birdsong continued to exert his influence in his own unassuming way: “I have been truly blessed to have met and worked with so many creative people,” - Edwin Birdsong