Bernie Worrell, the pioneering funk keyboardist and “Wizard of Woo” who worked with such acts as Parliament-Funkadelic and the Talking Heads, died Friday at his home in Everson, Washington, after battling cancer. He was 72.
A statement posted to Worrell’s Facebook page Friday said, “Bernie transitioned Home to The Great Spirit. Rest in peace, my love — you definitely made the world a better place. Till we meet again, vaya con Dios.”
Raised in Long Branch and Plainfield, New Jersey, Worrell was a classically trained musician who took up piano at age 3 and later studied at the Juilliard School and the New England Conservatory of Music.
After leaving the conservatory, Worrell served for several years as musical director for Maxine Brown before joining George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic crew. He gave the freewheeling group a structural foundation while also exploring his own musical ideas.
“People say they can hear the classical influences in my music,” Worrell told the Star-Ledger of New Jersey in 2010. “I’ll throw an old standard in the midst of a funk piece or a rock piece, whatever it may be.”
Among the many P-Funk jams he co-wrote, played on, or co-produced were “Flash Light,” “Atomic Dog,” “Aqua Boogie,” and “Red Hot Mama.”
Worrell would go on to work with David Byrne and the Talking Heads as a session man and touring musician, playing on several albums and in the concert documentary Stop Making Sense.
“He gives you the theology of funk,” Byrne said of Worrell earlier this year, ahead of a benefit concert for the ailing musician. “Bernie can take the music to a very cosmic place.”
Worrell also released several solo albums, including All the Woo in the World and Funk of Ages, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with other members of Parliament-Funkadelic in 1997.