*Starting this Sunday, TVOne’s popular TV documentary “Unsung,” a six-time recipient of the NAACP’s Image Award, will feature several stars in its upcoming season including the Quintessential King of Cool, Morris Day. “Unsung” centers around many of the challenges that some artists have from working with some of the biggest superstars.
Morris Day, an R&B legend, as described in the episode, is Funk Royalty. From the moment the first album, “The Time” hit the air waves, with the insanely entertaining Morris Day, audiences knew the undisputed King of Cool was masterful in getting audiences up on the dance floor. Morris Day and the Time, had a string of hits in the 80s and 90s, including “Cool,” “777-9311,” “The Bird,” and their first major hit, “Get It Up.” In “Unsung,” he recounts the thrill of hearing his own music on the radio for the first time.
“We were on the 405 (a Los Angeles freeway) and ‘Get It Up’ comes on the radio,” said Morris Day. “We pulled over to the side, we jumped out and started dancing. It’s a good thing we didn’t get killed. That was a lifelong dream- to hear my record on the radio.”
READ THIS, TOO: Morris Day’s Son Following in His Musical Footsteps
In Sunday’s (03-21-21) “Unsung,” Morris Day, originally of Springfield, Illinois, recounts a turbulent childhood, that resulted in his mother fleeing to Minneapolis, Minnesota when he was very young. There, he developed his musical foundation, becoming fond of percussion and the drums. He was a huge fan of the performers of the 60s and loved to watch them as a child.
“We were one of the first families in the projects that had a color TV and we got a color TV when they were first coming out, “he reflected. “I would watch American Bandstand, just to watch The Four Tops and The Supremes and all those groups in that color box. It was mesmerizing. I said, ‘I want to do that, I want to be there.’” Day loved photos of his older relatives, and how they dressed.
“My uncles and my great uncles were entrepreneurs, “said Day of stylishly dressed relatives. “These guys were in the 40s when a lot of African-Americans didn’t have businesses, these guys had businesses, they had cab stands, car detailing companies. One of my uncles, when he finally passed away, had owned a cemetery. These were guys that didn’t get past a third or fourth grade education. I would see pictures of them back in the cab stand days they would have on these knicker pants with high leather boots and cab hats and leather jackets and my grandpa would be on the side with a double-breasted suit, hair laid, if not laid, then he had a hat on and he was just always pimped out. He stood out. So, I was like, ‘I want to be that guy, I want to start out like that.”
A friend of his, bassist Andre Cymone was impressed with his drumming and recruited him for his band, Grand Central, which featured a young and bright star, Prince. In Minneapolis, “battle of the bands” competitions was common, and Flyte Tyme, which featured future stars Alexander O’ Neal, Cynthia Johnson and future mega-producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, were Grand Central’s primary rivals. Later, when Prince signed to Warner Brothers, he formed a band called “The Time,” which also had Flyte Tyme’s Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and Monte Moir in the ensemble. Prince asked Morris to join the band. Although Morris thought he’d be playing drums, Prince had other ideas- he wanted Day to front the band. Although initially reluctant, Morris Day’s sense of timing and humor on stage made him an instant star. Morris Day and the Time were instant hits.
“I’m a fan of old school comedy, “said Morris. “Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and I make myself laugh at lot. I think that’s what comedy is all about, finding the comedy in things that are often not that funny.” Day interjects the spirit of comedy in his shows and quickly found a huge audience. Prince even casted Day as his foil in the historic music cinema marvel “Purple Rain.”
However, after Prince and Day had a series of problems, including a publicized fight over the group’s name, he went on a lengthy hiatus.
“It was love and hate at times,” said Day of his relationship with Prince. “I never had his phone number, he always had mine. And he always had his handlers call me at these obscure times, in the middle of the night.” Day later suffered from depression, and unfortunately, turned to drugs-crack cocaine. However, his family intervened.
“I was fortunate to have my family, my mom and my sister in particular,” said Morris Day, of how he left the throes of drug addiction. “They were concerned about me and they wouldn’t give up on me.” One day, while Morris was deep into getting high, he was surprised to see that his mother and sister had managed to get into his gated Beverly Hills home for an intervention. “Somehow they got in my house,” he laughed. “I still don’t know how they got in my house. I looked up and they’re in bedroom standing there looking at me. It was enough shame and I felt enough concern that it kind of inspired me to get help. It was a family intervention. I don’t know if that works for everybody, but that’s what worked for me.”
Shortly before Prince passed away, he invited Morris Day’s group to perform at Paisley Park, Prince’s compound.
“We talked and we chopped it up and I felt we kind of re-bonded at that point,” he said. When asked about one thing that people would be surprised to know about Prince, he had a candid answer. “He was a comedian,” laughed Morris Day. “He almost could have done stand up comedy, he loved to laugh and to make people laugh and for people to make him laugh. I would think that if you looked at his dark, mysterious personality, I don’t think that’s something you would get from him.”
The pandemic has affected the lives of entertainers immensely. However, Morris Day continues to refine and work on his craft. “We definitely haven’t been taking this whole pandemic sitting down,” he reflected. “We’re taking it with the assumption that it will eventually subside and when it’s done, we’re going to be ready to rock and roll.”
Day, who has also penned a memoir, “On Time, A Princely Life in Funk,” currently has a single out, ‘HeadRush,’ one of several songs he worked on with hip hop legend Snoop Dogg.
“We reached out to Snoop,” said Morris, “He said, if you want to come down to my spot, if you give me two months, I guarantee you we can come up with some great stuff.” Morris made the sojourn to Snoop’s studio and the hip hop legend promptly gave Day a tour of his house and his Wall of Fame. “I was one of the few people on there (his wall), so I was very impressed,” laughed Day. “We got to work, he put his team on some stuff and we came up with “HeadRush.” Snoop was featured on a few other singles that he worked on with Morris. “It didn’t make sense for him to do every song, so we didn’t have a future on that track and sat it on the side, I felt like it was missing something,” Day explained, of the track that became ‘HeadRush.” So, we set it aside for a moment, and my manager sometime later came up with the idea we should get Trinidad James on it. We sent it to him, and he killed it.” The single and video is undeniably Morris, with his always comical facial expressions, slick dance moves and, as Cedric The Entertainer says in the episode, “fashion-forward” manner of dress.
Morris Day and the Time continue to perform. And as long as Morris Day is performing, he will always be the Quintessential King of Cool. And why you should tune in to TVOne and see this amazing artist’s story? Well, if the incredible preceding info/video we provided isn’t enough to convince you, nothing will.
“Unsung,” on TVOne, with Morris Day will air Sunday March 21, 2021 at 9PM/8 Central. Future episodes include Keith Washington, Bobby V and the Jones Girls. For more information, visit www.tvone.tv. Connect with TVOne, on social media, using the hashtags #UNSUNG and #REPRESENT.