Summer and music go hand in hand, and the latest TV One “Unsung” series helps celebrate the season with several new documentaries. The top-rated series of one-hour biographies recalls the lives and careers of successful artists or groups who, despite great talent, have not received the level of recognition they deserve.
The multi-faceted artists featured on “Unsung” have contributed significantly to popular culture and to the life memories and experiences of the past three or four generations, yet have either failed to achieve that same level of superstardom, or have compelling life stories the details of which have largely remained untold. “Unsung” focuses on gifted musical talents who have played an important role in recent music history, but have not necessarily become household names.
“What better way to celebrate summer than with music, and what better way to celebrate music than with new episodes of Unsung?” said TV One Executive Vice President of original programming and production Toni Judkins. “While we have now produced several dozen episodes of ‘Unsung,’ it t is remarkable that we have no shortage of incredibly talented candidates for new episodes — and our audience continues to want more. The winter 2012 season of ‘Unsung’ was our highest-rated, most-watched season ever, and we look forward to celebrating with our viewers more amazing stories of great talent this summer and helping to paint that richer portrait of Black music in America.”
For the latest episode, the soul funk disco band Con Funk Shun gather for the first time to tell the story of a truly “Unsung” band. With five gold albums and 16 top 40 singles, Con Funk Shun strode across the funk and R&B scene for more than a decade. From their roots as high-school friends in Vallejo, California, they honed their chops at Stax records in Memphis, while developing an irrepressibly danceable sound. With hits like “Fun,” “Shake & Dance With Me,” “Chase Me,” and “Love’s Train,” the group performed in sold-out arenas around the country, while showing off lavish outfits and tightly choreographed moves. But after 17 years together, a succession of personal conflicts caused the band to fall apart. And a decade later, one of their founding members was killed in circumstances at once mysterious and chilling.
Con Funk Shun was formed in Vallejo, California, in 1969 by classmates Louis A. McCall and Michael Cooper. With McCall on drums and percussion and Cooper providing lead vocals and lead guitar, the group went on to include Karl Fuller (trumpet), Paul Harrell (saxophone/flute), Cedric Martin (bass guitar), Danny Thomas (keyboards), and Felton C. Pilate II (trombone/lead vocals). They moved to Memphis in 1973 and got a major record deal with Mercury in 1976.
During their 10 years with Mercury, the band received four RIAA gold album awards and other industry accolades, while performing on major national tours and overseas. The group disbanded in 1986 after lead singers Cooper and Pilate II left for solo careers. Cooper had a few moderate hits while signed to Warner Bros. and Pilate went on to be the musical director and producer for rapper MC Hammer. In 1994, they started appearing together as Con Funk Shun again with sidemen in the place of the original members. The new band appears at old school festivals and nostalgia shows throughout the country.
McCall was murdered in 1997 in a home invasion robbery in Stone Mountain, Ga. His wife, Linda Lou, fought to keep the case active for 11 years, only to see the suspect release on home arrest. For this “Unsung” episode, the remaining original members, along with family and friends, tell the behind-the-scenes story of an important American band.
Con Funk Shun’s documentary premieres on TV One’s series “Unsung” on Monday, July 9 at 9 p.m. The episode repeats at midnight.