How Sly Stone Integrated 1960s San Francisco Radio
Before he was funkin’ with the Family Stone (the first racially-integrated and mixed-gendered popular American rock group) Sly Stone was spinning music from all walks of life on San Francisco’s KSOL.
Now 80, Rock N Roll Hall of Famer, Sly Stone, lived most of his life in the Bay Area. Attending Vallejo High School, Sylvester Stewart, was in many integrated bands including the Viscaynes, where he honed keyboards, bass, guitar, and drums. Following his time at VHS, he attended Vallejo Junior College (aka Solano Community College) where he picked up the trumpet and mastered composition and theory. But it was San Francisco’s Chris Borden School of Radio where Sly earned his radio wings, ultimately jutting him, only after a few months of class, into his first of many radio gigs in the Bay where he would revolutionize radio and music.
While working on his own music, including the Family Stone gig at a club called Winchester Cathedral in Redwood City, they would mix covers with original material. Covers of which the originals he would spin on his radio show. He included white performers such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in his playlists having enjoyed the British Invasion’s take on black music. Pretty full circle for an artist and music lover! Sly later brought his show to KDIA (now KMAK).
In addition to radio, he was tapped as a producer for now-defunct San Francisco-based label, Autumn Records, who brought us first-generation Bay Area rock bands the Beau Brummels, the Charlatans, the Great Society, and the Mojo Men– all who owe a little bit to Sly’s diverse ear. Taking what he learned from San Francisco radio and producing artists in the area, Stone and his funky family band became one of the key figures in the development of funk music, along with James Brown and Funkadelic’s George Clinton. With the Family Stone, he had hits throughout the 60s and 70s, including Family Affair, Everyday People, I Want to Take You Higher, and Dance to the Music.
Now, Sly’s story wasn’t all sequins and booty shaking. Due to greedy record labels and long history of drug addiction, Stone was homeless and his health was declining in recent years. Winning a court case brought him a much-deserved $5 million dollars, with which he was able to get clean and find a home in Los Angeles. He visits San Francisco when his health allows.
Sly (and the Family Stone) left a notable impact on radio, music, and culture:
- KDIA (now KMKA) has been inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame – Sly, a genius musician who moonlighted on the radio station
- Nearly 30% of broadcasters in America are POC
- Integrated legacy bands spawned from Sly’s influence including: War, KC and the Sunshine Band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Specials, UB40, and Santana
- There are 220+ Black-owned radio stations in the US
- Paved the way for popular acts of today such as Bloc Party, Alabama Shakes, Run the Jewels, Bruno Mars and the Hooligans,
- Questlove is directing a biopic on Sly with a solid view of his musical integration efforts (and a memoir is due to release in October)
- His music has been sampled for 40+ years by the likes of Janet Jackson, Insane Clown Posse, LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, Fatboy Slim, Brandy, Cypress Hill, ATCQ, Madonna, Joey Bada$$, N.W.A., and Bay gods of the slap E-40 and Mac Dre
His impact has made him the subject of many documentaries including Summer of Soul, On the Sly: In Search of the Family Stone, and Jimi and Sly: The Skin I’m In
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