As a fan of the late-60s and 70s music and culture, Sly Stone always stuck out to me. The ‘Fro, the boots, and the romper jumpsuits. Stone’s look was a combination of a blaxploitation hero and a hippie all in one. His music was a combination of Southern Baptist church music and hippie acid party rock music. Before Michael Jackson and pre-Formation Beyoncé, he was one of the first black artists to have a large fan base comprised of both black and white fans.
Stone, born Sylvester Stewart on March 15, 1943, was born in Denton, Texas. At an early age, he was viewed as a musical prodigy. By the age of seven, he had mastered the piano and by 11, the guitar and drums. As a teenager, he founded the band Sly and the Family Stone with his brother and sister. With a combination of soul, funk and rock, they were able to bring a new sound to popular music. The band’s message of positivity and self-love helped them to capture a fanbase within the counterculture era of the 1960s and 1970s. They launched to superstardom after performing at the infamous Woodstock music festival in 1969. By then, Sly and his band had achieved notoriety as being the first mixed-gender and multiracial band to achieve mainstream success.
With four top ten albums and five top ten songs including the heavily-sampled hit “Thank You,” Stone was pushing the genre of music forward without even realizing it. Being one of the most prominent black artists of that time meant that he was subject to much criticism from both black and white people. The Black Panther Party demanded that he made “Black Power ” music as well as turn his band from multiracial to all black.
One moment that really sticks out to me from his history came in 1974 when Stone got into an argument on live TV with Muhammad Ali about racism. The Stone-Ali argument represents my personality to the fullest. Sometimes, I feel like Muhammad Ali, a passionate, overtly-confident individual who says what people think but are too scared to say. On the other hand, sometimes, I feel like Sly Stone, a calm dude who just wants everyone to get along. Nevertheless, Sly’s philosophy and delivery is something that really resonates with me.
Regardless of this, Sly Stone’s music has inspired artists of every genre. Sly and the Family Stone’s music has been sampled over 900 times by artists ranging from Ike and Tina Turner to Tupac and covered almost 200 times by artists ranging from Diana Ross to Madonna. My personal favorite sample of his comes from Janet Jackson’s song “Rhythm Nation” which sampled “Thank You”.
As a child, I used to fear being accused of “acting white” because of my interests. Stone took the “acting white” charge, flipped it, and became highly successful off of it. He refused to be boxed into any category because of his race. I bet if you told someone in Jim Crow era Denton circa 1959 that ten years from then, a black man from there would perform to an audience of pacifist white kids with his racially-integrated band, you would be laughed at.
A long time has passed then, but not much has changed. Stone’s philosophy of love, equality, and positivity represented the future. Denton’s represented the past. I think it is now time that the city honors its hometown hero. If a confederate soldier can be honored, they should now honor a man who stands against everything said soldier represents. “Don’t hate the black, don’t hate the white. If you get bitten, just hate the bite. Make sure your heart is beating right” – Sly Stone on Are You Ready.