Dayton funk museum open mid-March, honor Ohio Players, other bands

Dayton resident Michael Sampson envisions a sprawling entertainment facility devoted to funk music complete with bustling bars, shops, restaurants and performance venues.

He’s starting with a modest space on the first floor of the Legacy Center now being constructed inside the former Hoerstring-Holtman Building in the Wright Dunbar Business District.

Formerly with the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Sampson said the Land of Funk Museum and Hall of Fame will open mid-March. He hopes it will plant a seed that leads to further economic development in the budding section of the city just west of downtown that once was a significant commercial corridor.

Sampson said music heritage has led to economic development in cities like Memphis, News Orleans and Branson, Mo.

“Branson, Mo. is now a destination (for country music fans). Dayton can be the same thing for funk music. You have to start someplace,” he said. “What you need to do is to have that spark.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, southwestern Ohio — particularly Dayton’s west side — was known for its stable of funk bands whose influence can be heard in some of today’s music.

Notable acts also emerged from Cincinnati and Cleveland during that time period.

Sampson said the showmanship and musicianship of Dayton funk bands such as the Ohio Players, Steve Arrington’s Hall of Fame, Zapp, Faze-O, Heatwave, Sun, Slave and Lakeside have been applauded nationally, but there is no permanent physical monument to their work here or elsewhere.

The Phoenix Project plans to install a sound sculpture being designed by local artist Michael Bashaw at the former site of Troutman Recording Studio near the northwest corner of the Salem and Catalpa Gateway in honor of Hamilton-born funk musician Roger Troutman.

The funk museum will occupy about half of the 4,000 square foot Legacy Center with about 100 items connected to Dayton acts as well as those who made it big from other parts of the state and world.

Programming and classes at the museum as well as the Legacy Center — a facility conceived to celebrate West Dayton’s history and recognize those who have made significant contributions to arts, education, music, sports, business and civil rights in Dayton — are set to start in February.

To be supported partly by fund-raisers, membership fees and partnerships with arts organizations, the Legacy Center is being constructed using $250,000 from the Ohio Cultural Facilities Commission awarded to Wright Dunbar Inc., a nonprofit focused on revitalizing the business district where Wilbur and Orville Wright invented the airplane and celebrated poet Paul Laurence Dunbar began his work.

The Legacy Center will be located not far from the The Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center, a 13,000 sq. ft. National Park site.

Wright Dunbar Inc. President Idotha Bootsie Neal said the funk museum can enhance the experience of those who visit the city because of its history of aviation and innovation. It will have a small stage for talks and performances.

“This is the fun part of our history,” Neal said of funk music. “People like to have a good time. A lot of talented people came from Dayton. That talent still exists, but where is the venue where that talent can be discovered?”

Carole Sampson, Michael Sampson’s wife and Wright Dunbar’s director of community development, said Dayton funk heritage and other historical contributions should be celebrated and preserved so they can inspire others.

“There are some very significant things that have occurred here and (influential) people have come from this place,” Sampson said. “It is important for for young people to come here and experience that.”

Sampson said the museum will include a display on the Ohio Players, whose frontman Leroy “Sugarfoot Bonner died over the weekend in Trotwood at 69.

“He was one of the most talented and influential musicians of the era. He was copied. He was idolized by so many artists tried to emulate his style. He was the perfect icon for the perfect band,” Sampson said.