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George Clinton's Mothership

Written by Britta B.

6/21/12

In preparation for the upcoming groundbreaking celebration concert, "Bring Back the Funk," on June 27th on the National Mall, I sat down with Kevin S. Kevin is a Project Historian at NMAAHC and was a key team member in the acquisition of the iconic Mothership. This prop was previously used in performances by George Clinton.

How do you think George Clinton has been influential in funk music?

He's huge! He’s part of the triumvirate of seminal funk musicians from his era. George Clinton is paramount to the development of funk music in the 70's.

What is the Mothership? Can you explain what it looks like and what its purpose was?

The Mothership is a stage prop that was developed by George Clinton and used for his musical shows. George Clinton had the idea of having a big stage spectacle to form a sort of visual and conceptual narrative to go along with the music. He developed this idea of figuratively putting African Americans in space and developed this funk opera ("Mothership Connection") that would musically transport the consciousness of the audience into this interstellar region or plane. It all sounds pretty far out, in a sense, because it is. That’s sort of the scope of his musical genius. He was thinking broadly and outside of the box.

Can you explain what it looks like and what its purpose was?

The Mothership is a stage prop that visually represents a culmination of this thinking. So, during his concerts they would sing the song, “Mothership Connection” and sort of summon the Mothership from the rafters and then at the end of the show it would go back up. It’s a gigantic stage prop. It sort of looks like a flying saucer that you would see in a science fiction movie.

What was the audience response to the Mothership?

The spectacle of the Mothership was huge. I never saw it land in person, but by all accounts, the crowd would go completely crazy because it’s this out-of-this-world kind of object. Alongside the music and the energy created from the live show, it really was the cherry on top.

Did you know for a while that you wanted to acquire the Mothership from George Clinton?

Once we understood that acquiring the Mothership was a possibility, we zeroed in on trying to make this happen. I went down to Tallahassee to meet with George Clinton. The Mothership was literally parked in his living room. I came there with a tape measure and spoke with his road crew and the shippers as to how we could actually go about doing this and how complicated it can be. So, it took a little bit of time, but we finally got it disassembled and transported to our collections storage.

What was George Clinton like?

He’s a really friendly guy; he enjoys fishing and he of course enjoys music. I had the opportunity to pick his brain about his musical taste and he spoke to me about growing up in both North Carolina and New Jersey and how his musical tastes came to age and came to be.

While the Mothership won’t be in attendance, you can see a live performance by George Clinton, Meshell Ndegeochello, and Ivan Neville and Dumpstahphunk on the National Mall on June 27th. Visit our Events Page to learn more.

George Clinton