The Death Of Arlester Christian Of Dyke And The Blazers At 27

Arlester Christian died at 27 years and 273 days old on March 13, 1971. The cause of his violent death was a gunshot received in a street altercation in Phoenix, Arizona, his adopted hometown. Dyke, as he was nicknamed at an early age, was the lead vocalist and bassist of Dyke & the Blazers. He was a songwriter as well, and has a unique place in musical history as being the first to use the word “funky” in the title of a song, something that brought him fame and fortune along with a huge amount of publicity.

It may be hard to imagine in these times of anything goes lyrics, but “funky” was considered a borderline obscenity, and the furor over the song made it even more of a hit than it deserved to be without the bad rap. When Wilson Pickett recorded a version that went to the top of the charts nationwide, the funk movement was born, and it was only 1967 – the 70s hadn’t yet arrived. In just a few short years “funky” would become a household word and “funk” a musical genre all its own.

Christian was born on June 13, 1943, in Buffalo New York. He apparently spent a quiet life for most of his youth and adolescence, but it is known that by the time he was 17 he was able to join a local R&B band called Carl LaRue and His Crew. He played bass and performed with this band all over the region, also doing some recording. Larue and crew, including Christian relocated to Phoenix in 1964 at the request of a DJ there who had plans for the group. The plans fell through, however, and the failure led to the breakup of the crew.

Stuck in Arizona, Dyke put together his own band in 1965 and started playing a new, gritty style of R&B that was highly danceable and catchy. Within a couple of years the group had caught on in the region, and Dyke came up with the song “Funky Broadway” based on his remembrances of Broadway in Buffalo. They recorded the tune in 1967 and made it a regional hit, one that grabbed the attention of Wilson Pickett’s manager who convinced Pickett to record it. His version made Dyke a success, and his streak of good luck continued for a few years, even through band member changes, a move back to Buffalo, and label problems. He had a hit of his own with the song “Let A Woman Be A Woman, Let A Man Be A Man” and several others.

Bad luck was waiting in the wings for the young musician, however, and perhaps some drug dealing and involvement with shady characters. At least that was the rumor when he was gunned down on a Phoenix street in 1971 by Clarence Daniels. Daniels was able to avoid conviction for the murder by claiming self defense, a claim for which there was apparently evidence. Christian was buried in his birth city of Buffalo, where Broadway runs through town and will be forever remembered as the street where funk was born.

 


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