Monk Higgins is best known for the R&B hit instrumentals "Who Dun It" and "Gotta Be Funky." The prolific Higgins also wrote a slew of songs for others including Bobby Bland and one of the Chi-Lites' first singles, "Go Go Gorilla." A mainstay of the Chicago R&B/soul music scene, he was a producer/arranger/session player at Chess Records during the '60s., Monk was fondly referred by owner Leonard Chess as his "God Son" .
Higgins also worked with Three Sounds, Blue Mitchell, Junior Wells, Gene Harris, Muddy Waters, Freddy Robinson, and Etta James, among others.
The saxman was born Milton Bland in Menifee, AR, on October 3, 1930. He graduated from Arkansas State Univ. at Pine Bluff, married had 3 daughters, taught music and started a marching band in a local high school. After the marriage failed, he moved to Chicago, taught school, eventually remarried and became involved
in the music/recording industry.
After moving to Chicago, Higgins started doing sides for George Learner's Onederful Records. Later, he began recording for St. Lawrence Records. One of his instrumentals for the label, the cool, funky "Who Dun It," hit number 30 R&B during the summer of 1966. The flip side was the melancholy past-midnight ballad "These Days Are Filled With You."
While at St. Lawrence, he hired his cousin Barbara (Acklin) Hackling as a secretary. Higgins recorded a single on her under the name Barbara Allen for his Special Agent label. Later, Higgins used Acklin as a background singer on his Chess Records sessions. Acklin later hit as a recording artist in the summer of 1968 with "Love Makes a Woman."
In 1969, Higgins moved to Los Angeles. He arranged and produced acts for United Artists Records, Imperial, and Blue Note. The multi-talented sax player recorded a few albums for United Artists. The LP Heavyweight (August 1972) included his biggest hit, "Gotta Be Funky" (number 22 R&B). Another UA LP, Monk Higgins (January 1973), includes "Little Mama." On Buddah Records, Higgins recorded "Dance to the Disco Sax of Monk Higgins" (December 1974). He's featured on the movie soundtrack and Buddah LP release from the 1975 Pam Grier/American International film Sheba, Baby. Higgins collaborated with former Stax Records executive Al Bell on hits for Bobby Bland during the '70s and '80s.
In 1983, blues artist Keb Mo joined his Higgins' Whodunit Band, which already had a member by the name of Gerald Albright. Keb Mo contributed vocals and guitar as the group performed at Los Angeles-area clubs like Marla's Memory Lane. Keb Mo credits his time with Higgins as the most important element in developing his understanding of the blues. Since the '90s, Higgins' music has been sampled by numerous rap artists and is included on various breakbeat compilation CDs.
MCA Records bought the Chess catalog in the mid-'80s, reissuing many sides that feature Higgins' contributions. Monk Higgins died July 3, 1986, in Los Angeles, CA.
Written by Ed Hogan
Edited by V.P. Bland