Felton Pilate is best known as the lead singer of Confunkshun, an R&B Old School band created in 1974 while in Memphis, Tn.
Pilate was born in Jackson Mississippi to Felton Pilate Sr., a naval physician, and Benita Akines Pilate, a music major and social worker. After many military assignments, The Pilate family’s last move would be a move to Vallejo, Ca., where Felton Jr. would spend his formative years.
Pilate knew from a very young age that music would be an important part of his life. He took trumpet and piano lessons very early and self-taught himself to play guitar and trombone. In high school he created a band and performed locally while honing his craft.
Michael Cooper, who had another local band, asked him to join his group during their final high school years and with no hesitation, Felton said yes. That was the beginning of his career as a member of Project Soul who went on the road with Stax recording artists, “The Soul Children” and moved to Memphis, Tn. Project Soul got a record deal and were asked to change their name. The band chose ConFunkShun and the rest, as they say, is history.
Pilate’s accolades include Record Producer, Songwriter & Recording Artist with (USA) Diamond Platinum Sales Status and numerous Gold, Platinum, Multi-Platinum, and Mega-Platinum selling albums; participated in and contributed to numerous Grammy winning and nominated recording projects; Recording Engineer, Mixer, and Mastering Engineer. Pilate has 45+ years touring history as an internationally recognized R&B artist principal, recording studio owner and manager having trained numerous other eventual Grammy winning record producers.
During COVID, he released two singles, “We’re Still Here” and “Waiting Just to Dance” and is currently in the studio working on finishing the album. Both songs are doing extremely well on the charts worldwide. As for ConFunkShun, Felton and Michael Cooper are fine tuning ConFunkShun’s new Christmas Album, set for release in the fall of 2022, and a new R&B album.
Pilate has a gift of perfecting and creating multiple projects at one time and is extremely busy with his music as well as writing, editing, and creating a soundtrack for a new TV pilot. Over the last two years, he has also developed several stage shows including; “Everybody Dance! ”, a tribute to Nile Rodgers and Chic, “I Love Music! ”, a tribute to the Philly Sound, and “Rock Steady! ” a tribute to Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds.
When did you know that music would be your life?
I can’t accurately say that there’s an actual “when”. There was a time when I loved writing and performing but didn’t have confidence that music should be my priority… music was originally planned to be my back-up plan! To best answer your question, I have to go back a little bit. There’s always been a piano in the house as far back as I can remember, even when I lived with my grandmother at the age of 4. I always enjoyed watch and listening to my mother play and sing. When I was able to read, I started understanding the books that were stored in the piano bench… in retrospect they must have been the beginning books my mom started with when she was a child.
Music has always been a *part* of my life. I got the inspiration to actually consider playing music in front of an audience at a junior high school dance. It was my first time seeing a live band perform popular music and I was blown away! It didn’t occur to me that music could and would be the focus of my life until the summer of ’72 when Project Soul (what we were called before changing our name to ConFunkShun) became the back-up band The Soul Children, one of the recording artists on the STAX label out of Memphis. Music has been my only income since then.
Your accolades include Record Producer, Songwriter & Recording Artist with (USA) Diamond Platinum Sales Status and numerous Gold, Platinum, Multi-Platinum, and Mega-Platinum selling albums. What does it take to succeed in the business?
Ha! Before you get to the “succeeding” part, you have to get past the “surviving” part! Just to do that, you must learn and *respect* the fact that it’s called the music business for a reason. In order to have any *chance* of actually succeeding, one should learn as much as you can about the business, perfect your craft, and don’t take compromising shortcuts.
During COVID, you released two singles, “We’re Still Here” and “Waiting Just to Dance.” What was the inspiration for these singles?
“We’re Still Here” if you listen to the lyrics, is not just about people wanting the club to stay open longer… it is a statement about the fact that those of us who *have* survived need to be grateful that we can still do what we do. “Waiting Just to Dance” was literally written out of my frustration with the COVID lockdown. “Dance” became a metaphor for the world just wanting to get back to normal.
FMM: What makes your new single so special?
I can honestly say that most of the songs I’ve written, whether it’s an uptempo dance song, or love ballad, are tributes in some way to the people that I was inspired by or learned from, either directly or indirectly. I was really encouraged by the fact that Leave The Door Open, by Silk Sonic, won the “Song of the Year” award at the Grammys. That said a lot to me since that song, in my opinion is basically an old school style ballad and since I’m a romantic kind of guy, “Here’s What I’d Do For You” seemed to be a natural kind of song to write.
You are collaborating with Michael Cooper and fine tuning ConFunkShun’s new Christmas Album, set for release in the fall. Tell us more.
We started working on this last year when Michael Cooper suggested that we do one. I immediately wrote 3 brand new Christmas songs and currently working on 2 more. I’m very pleased with the progress so far and excited about the fact that it’s our first Christmas project. We released one of songs, “A Christmas Kind of Day” as a single last year and got a very enthusiastic response. Michael has a version of “My Favorite Things” that I really love!
What do you want your legacy to be?
To some degree, my legacy has already been set. Let me clarify… people approach me and tell me things like “We got married to your song”. Knowing that I’ve touched someone’s heart, affected someone’s emotions, or encouraged something positive in someone’s life based on something I wrote or created is huge for me. If I don’t accomplish anything else before I die, I’m totally happy with that….