In the middle of a 1976 performance of “Mothership Connection” by legendary funk outfit Parliament-Funkadelic, fans were surprised to see singer George Clinton emerge from a silver spaceship in a cloud of smoke. This was the first appearance of the Mothership, one of the most iconic stage props in African-American musical history, according to Smithsonian specialist Kevin Strait. And when Strait learned that Clinton was willing to donate the Mothership to The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture, he jumped at the chance to add it to the museum’s collection. Sadly, the original Mothership was dumped in a Maryland junkyard in 1982 to help stave off some of the band’s outstanding debts.
With the help of roadie Bernie Walden, Parliament re-created the Mothership in the mid-90s for a tour, and it is this replica which is being placed in the exhibit. Walden recalled the “organized chaos” of the Parliament tours, and remembered that the prop’s carbon dioxide smoke “was so much on the original one that people in the front row were passing out.” Clinton is proud of the Mothership’s legacy, describing it as “a symbol of all the music that was created from it. Not only from us — Parliament, Funkadelic, Bootsy [Collins] and the media — but the people that sampled it later, which was a whole other 25 years of music.”