Entertainment & Arts

Edwin Birdsong: Funk musician sampled by Daft Punk dies aged 77

Edwin Birdsong attending the Grammys in 2015 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Edwin Birdsong attending the Grammys in 2015

Edwin Birdsong, a jazz and funk keyboardist whose music was sampled by Daft Punk, Kanye West and Snoop Dogg, has died at the age of 77.

He was best known for the disco song Cola Bottle Baby, which formed the basis for Daft Punk's Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.

He was also a prolific session musician and producer who worked with Stevie Wonder and Roy Ayers.

His death was confirmed by his son Singh and ex-wife Angela on Facebook.

The son of a minister, Birdsong got his start in music in the Los Angeles Community Choir, where he met gospel artists Merry Clayton and Billy Preston.

He later served in Vietnam and spent time playing for service personnel in clubs throughout Germany, before returning to America and studying composition at the Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard.

In 1971, he signed to Polydor Records, releasing a series of experimental albums - including 1973's Supernatural, which set a template for Lenny Kravitz and Prince's fusion of rock and funk a decade later.

Cola Bottle Boy, which appeared on his self-titled fourth album, was written as a tribute to the "beautiful black women" whose spirituality "got us through" slavery.

The song languished in obscurity until 2001, when Daft Punk found a promotional copy and built their space-age single Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger around a sped-up sample of its bouncy keyboard riff.

"I recorded it 30 years ago, and here come some guys from France," said Birdsong in an interview last year. "I asked them, 'Where did you find the music?' And they said, 'I was going through bins and it popped out.'

"And then Kanye West also sampled the same song, calling it Stronger.

"I'm blessed and I continue to be blessed by opening my arms to God every day."

Rapper Dapper Snapper - the last track on Birdsong's final album Funtaztik - also became a hip-hop staple, with its drumbeat forming the backbone of De La Soul's Me Myself & I, Gang Starr's Skills, Snoop Dogg's Lodi Dodi and The Chemical Brothers' Morning Lemon, among others.

Birdsong said the track had been recorded at "three o'clock in the morning in Brooklyn" after he called in favours to get access to the Platinum Factory recording studio "after all the other sessions had completed".

As well as his solo career, the musician worked closely with Ayers, co-writing the songs Running Away and Freaky Deaky, and produced tracks for disco band Eighties Ladies and rap act Crush Groove.

He also appeared as a session musician on Stevie Wonder's 1985 album In Square Circle.

Birdsong died on 21 January, his son confirmed, posting a simple black-and-white photo on Instagram captioned: "I love you dad."

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