Vibraphonist and vocalist Roy Ayers is among the best-known, most loved, and respected jazz and R&B artists on the music scene today. Now entering his sixth decade in the business, Ayers, known as the Godfather of Neo-Soul, continues to bridge the gap between generations of music lovers.
Born in Los Angeles in 1940, Ayers enjoyed a musical upbringing. By the early '60s, he was playing regularly with a number of local performers, including such fixtures on the Los Angeles jazz scene as Teddy Edwards, Chico Hamilton, and Jack Wilson. In 1966, he joined jazz flutist Herbie Mann's quartet and recorded with Mann for the next four years, a period that included the release of the flutist's smash hit LP Memphis Underground (1969).
Ayers left the Mann group and his post-bop past behind in 1970. He moved to New York, where he quickly formed his own band Ubiquity, an R&B and jazz-rock outfit with a constantly-shifting roster of musicians. When disco emerged in the second half of the '70s, Ayers and Ubiquity found themselves squarely in the limelight. Their hit song "Everybody Loves the Sunshine" became a dance floor sensation, their 1977 single "Running Away" broke into the R&B Top 20, and 1978's "The Freaky Deaky" became popular enough to inspire a dance step of the same name.
After touring with afrobeat superstar Fela Kuti at the end of the '70s, Ayers's career cooled off in the mid-'80s, as he scored a number of minor hits on the Columbia label. However, the '90s saw the demand for his sound explode again, as hip-hop, acid jazz, and R&B artists in the U.S. and England began to use samples of Ayers's '70s hits in their work. Suddenly, he was back in the limelight and began releasing albums again, including 1995's Nasté and 1999's Juice.
Although the new millennium has seen Ayers release fewer new albums, he remains a pop culture hero, as music industry heavyweights like Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, 50 Cent, A Tribe Called Quest, Will Downing, and Talib Kweli seek him out for collaborations and sample his old hits. In many ways, his music is still years ahead of its time. "I'm honored that they picked my music," he was quoted as saying. "I'm ubiquitous again."
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