Idris Muhammad was one of the foremost funk, jazz and R&B drummers of his time. His legacy is still heard in today’s music.
Here are seven things to know about Idris Muhammad.
1. Idris Muhammad was born Leo Morris in New Orleans.
Muhammad was born Leo Morris on November 13, 1939, in one of the world’s most renowned musical cities.
He grew up in New Orleans’ 13th ward, where he lived next door to dry cleaners that he said influenced his signature hi-hat technique, according to Modern Drummer.
2. He played with tons of legendary acts, including Fats Domino and Sam Cooke.
It didn’t take long for musicians to take notice of Muhammad’s talent. He was playing with heavyweight acts like Fats Domino when he was just 16 and went on to work with a slew of other talented musicians.
They included: the Hawketts (including Art Neville), Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield, Roberta Flack and jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sander. He was also a vital house band member for the original Broadway production of “Hair.”
Other credits include Lou Donaldson, Grover Washington Jr., Nat Adderley, Gene Ammons, Grant Green, Freddie Hubbard, Ahmad Jamal, Andrew Hill, John Scofield, Sonny Stitt, George Benson, Randy Weston, Melvin Sparks, Joe Lovano and many others.
3. Idris Muhammad said New Orleans inspired his sound.
“My rhythms are a mixture of the second-line street beats and the way the Indians who danced during Mardi Gras played the tambourine,” Muhammad once said.
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His albums are regarded as the most classic in the funk genre and have been heavily sampled by hip-hop artists.
In 1970, he released his debut album as a leader, “Black Rhythm Revolution!,” on the Prestige label. He went on to record over a dozen more albums, indluding: “Power of Soul” (1974), “House of the Rising Sun” (1976) and “Turn This Mutha Out” (1977).
4. He married a fellow musical star.
In 1966, the iconic drummer married Dolores “LaLa” Brooks of the Crystals, a rock and roll girl group. The couple had four children, two sons and two daughters. Muhammad also had a daughter from a previous marriage to Gracie Lee Edwards. He and Brooks separated in 1999.
5. He changed his name to Idris Muhammad in the 1960s after converting to Islam.
Muhammad changed his name upon converting to Islam despite being told not to do so for fear it would hurt his career.
“One guy told me that if I changed my name, I was going to have a problem because no one would know that Leo Morris and Idris Muhammad were the same guy,” Muhammad told Modern Drummer in 1991. “But I thought, ‘Well, if I stay the same person, then people will know it’s me.’ And it worked like that. Everybody knew right away that it was me because of my style of playing.”
6. He published an autobiography in 2012.
Two years before his death, Muhammad published his autobiography, “Inside The Music: The Life of Idris Muhammad.” According to its description on Amazon, the book was based on “extensive yet mostly casual tape-recorded interviews” Muhammad did with Britt Alexander
7. Idris Muhammad died of kidney failure at the age of 74.
According to an obituary in the New York Times, Idris Muhammad died of kidney failure on July 29, 2014, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He’d moved home to New Orleans in 2011 and was on dialysis in the years leading up to his death.
Idris Muhammad playing the drums. (Photo: Twitter)