James “Plunky” Branch

James “Plunky” Branch (b. 1947–)

Richmond
Musician and Educator

Born in Richmond and educated in the city’s segregated schools, James “Plunky” Branch attended Columbia University in New York City. By 1971 he had moved to San Francisco, where he formed Juju, a musical group that combined rhythm and blues, jazz, soul, and African musical influences. Returning to Richmond in the mid-1970s, Branch and his group have continued recording and performing, most recently as Plunky & Oneness. In 1982, their song “Every Way But Loose” made the top 10 on the London soul music charts. Branch was a founder of the Richmond Jazz Society in 1978.

Branch has released more than 20 albums through his independent record label, worked as a studio musician, including for the hit sitcom The Cosby Show, composed hundreds of songs, and produced a documentary, Under the Radar—A Survey of Afro-Cuban Music. Working with the U.S. Information Agency and the Virginia Commission for the Arts, Branch has educated audiences at home and around the world about the cultural significance of music. He has lectured on African-American music at Virginia Commonwealth University and directed the Virginia Union University Jazz Ensemble. He received jazz fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and was named by the governor to a task force to study the value of state funding on the arts in Virginia. Eager to share his talents and knowledge, Branch serves as an artist-in-residence and performs in public schools around the state and in 2012 was named one of the Richmond Public School system’s Living Legacies.

Watch James “Plunky” Branch’s acceptance speech at the 2015 Strong Men and Women in Virginia History awards ceremony on February 4, 2015.