Who was Sly Stone, and what did he contribute to music?
Sylvester Stewart, otherwise known as Sly Stone, was a musical prodigy as a child whose interracial bands and development of the hybrid of rhythm and blues, jazz and rock known as funk is credited with transforming music and inspiring and influencing a legion of followers, enjoyed his greatest success with such hit songs as “Dance to the Music,” “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey,” “Everyday People,” “Family Affair,” and “Hot Fun in the Summertime.” “Dance to the Music” in particular was considered innovative in its fusion of styles and stood as representative of the psychedelic music emerging out of the political and racial unrest consuming the country.
Stewart, who had already been known as “Sly,” merged his band with that of his brother Freddie to form Sly and the Family Stone in 1967. Their first big hit was “Dance to the Music” in 1968 and the band soon emerged as a major force in the categories of pop, rock, funk, soul and R&B. Unfortunately, as was not uncommon during the late-1960s and 1970s, rampant drug use began to consume Stewart/Stone’s life, and his productivity suffered, as did the internal dynamics of the group – a situation exacerbated by black militant demands that he remove white musicians from his group. The turbulence, however, did not prevent him from releasing the album “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” in 1971, the most prominent single on which was “Family Affair,” a bluesy turn down the dark side that represented the band’s, and the country’s mood during that period. “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” was immediately commercially successful, and the band’s next two albums, “Fresh” and “Small Talk” continued to reflect Stewart/Stone’s gift for rhythm and arrangements. By the mid-1970s, though, Stewart/Stone’s drug use had effectively killed the band’s ability to function, and a series of missed or mishandled live performances resulted in the dissolution of Sly and the Family Stone.
Sly Stone continued to appear sporadically but became a reclusive figure alleged to be homeless. Sly and the Family Stone were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, and the broadcast of the 2006 Grammy Awards featured a tribute to the band, during which the elusive Stone made a brief and somewhat bizarre appearance. His contributions to music, particularly to the development of the style known as funk, remain well-respected among his peers and followers.