Ohio Players (Dayton Daily News Archive)

3 groups fighting for Dayton funk museum, lawsuits threatened

They all want the funk

Three independent groups — including one that recently partnered with Wright State University — each want to create a funk museum in Dayton, a city dubbed “Land of Funk” for its contribution to the musical genre in the 1960s-80s.

The founders of the Dayton Funk Dynasty Group, The Dayton Land of Funk Museum and Hall of Fame, and the Funk Hall of Fame Museum — all registered with the state — have threatened each other or been threatened with lawsuits since late 2012.

Funk Dynasty Group CEO David R. Webb contacted the Dayton Daily News after the publication of an article on Wright State’s plan to collect documents related to funk music as part of an arrangement with the Funk Music Hall of Fame and Museum and its founder Brenda Curtis.

Threats of lawsuits

Webb said he plans to send a cease and desist letter to Wright State and Curtis concerning the recent use of the name Dayton Funk Dynasty.

Like Webb, Curtis and Land of Funk founder Michael Sampson expressed a willingness to work with Wright State.

Dawne Dewey, Wright State’s director of public history and head of special collections and archives, said the university continues to collect concert tickets, posters, publicity materials, films, audio recordings, band set lists, letters, contracts and other documentation that helps tell the story of funk and other popular local music.

“We are anxious to partner with others in the community to preserve the history of funk music and other local music,” she said.

Curtis said she was sadden by the negativity Webb has drawn up. “It muddies the water,” she said. “It takes away from the integrity of the project.”

Muddied water

Working as the founder of the Dayton Funk Dynasty, Curtis led a press conference in May 2013 that was supported by then-Dayton mayor Gary Leitzel and multiple legendary Dayton funk artists. The organization sought $10 from 10 million people for the museum and hall of fame as part of its campaign.

Webb, a former board member of Dayton Funk Dynasty under Curtis, registered the Dayton Funk Dynasty name with the state of Ohio and established a separate 11-member board July 3. Curtis registered her company as Funk Hall of Fame and Museum on April 26.

Webb said he cut ties with Curtis following the May press conference because her plan was overly ambitions and unorganized.

“You can’t just start off with $100 million. Nobody is going to give you that,” Webb said. “It just didn’t feel right and my name was out there.”

Stymied idea

That prior fall, Sampson, the Land of Funk founder, said a 26-page letter from Curtis threatened a lawsuit and accused him of stealing her funk museum idea. He said the letter helped stymie his plans for a funk museum as part of a Wright Dunbar Inc. Dayton history project in the Wright-Dunbar neighborhood.

“I was actually on the verge of opening it,” Sampson said. “We were at the point where we were ready to bring in the display cases and mannequins.”

Sampson said he first conceived the idea in the 1980s for a museum after curating a funk music exhibit for the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center in Wilberforce where he was worked 15 years.

Curtis denied sending the letter to Sampson and the board of the nonprofit Wright Dunbar Inc., but Dayton artist Willis “Bing” Davis, a Wright Dunbar Inc. board member and an organizer of the last February’s local Ohio Players show as part of the art exhibition called Visions of Dayton Funk, said the letter was discussed in great detail by the board and its lawyer.

He said Curtis’ letter did not stop the project that would honor Dayton historical figures including funk artists, but it and financial pressures did give the board pause.

“It is just unfortunate that we are unable to focus in on the big picture and see the need for the entire community,” Davis said. “I never understood how someone could claim something so universal and broad.”

Planning continues

Sampson said he is forming his group’s board and hopes to attract corporate sponsors.

Webb said his group hopes to start small and wants to raise $100,000 for a museum to be housed in downtown Dayton.

In December, Webb sent a cease and desist letter to Curtis through Dayton attorney Robert Scott of Oldham & Deitering that threatened legal action over Dayton Funk Dynasty name.

“No lawsuit filed,” Scott said. “It (the letter) was an attempt to settle it amicably.”

Curtis said Tuesday that she would no longer use the Funk Dynasty name that she said she has used since 1987 when the idea to open a funk museum first came to her.

She said her only intent is that Dayton’s funk legacy be preserved and recognized.

Dayton-based 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 are few permanent physical monuments to their work here or elsewhere.

“This isn’t about me. This isn’t about David Webb. This is about some well-deserved artists,” she said. “There is no battle because there will be only one funk hall and museum.”

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