Remembering Talking Heads Keys Wiz Bernie Worrell

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Bernie Worrell

Bernie Worrell (Photo via his Facebook page)

Rock and funk keyboard star and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Bernie Worrell, best known for his work with Parliament-Funkadelic and Talking Heads, succumbed to cancer on June 24, 2016, at age 72.

The man nicknamed “The Wizard of Woo” was not just a masterful and empathetic musical talent whose other credits include working with Keith Richards, Pretenders, and more.

He was widely beloved by those he played with and who knew him for his warmth, spirit, humor and generosity.

Worrell, born April 19, 1944, was a child prodigy who began studying piano at the age of three and gave his first public performance just a year later. He wrote his first concerto at age eight and performed with the Washington Symphony Orchestra at ten.

He first came to prominence as a founding member and Musical Director of Parliament/Funkadelic. His rapid advancements of the synthesizer’s potential were actually traceable to his classical foundation.

“When the synthesizers came about, my having been brought up classically and knowing a full range of orchestra, tympanis and everything, I knew how it sounded and what it felt like,” he told an interviewer. “So, if I’m playing a horn arrangement on keyboard, or strings, it sounds like strings or horns, ’cause I know how to phrase it, how a string phrases, different attacks from the aperture for horns, trumpets, sax or trombones.”

After departing Parliament/Funkadelic, Worrell resurfaced with the revamped Talking Heads lineup for several albums, including The Name of This Band is Talking Heads, Speaking in Tongues and Jonathan Demme’s concert film, Stop Making Sense.

Watch him perform with Talking Heads in Stop Making Sense

He appeared in Demme’s 2015 movie Ricki and the Flash as the keyboard player in Meryl Streep’s band.

The news of his passing was shared by his wife Judie on his Facebook page, with the simple message: “At 11:54, June 24, 2016, 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.”

Just one month earlier, the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA – where he had studied 50 years prior – awarded Worrell an Honorary Music Degree.

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