Skip to Content

The Joy of Funk

by University Relations

As a young boy, Zach Rudulph ’02 conspired with his brothers and sisters to save one of their father’s record albums from the axe. They rescued the album just in time as their father, Marvin, crushed a trove of his classic soul and funk records. The albums evoked memories of his life before he came to Christ, when he toured as a musician in a secular industry he came to view as corrupt.

Today, Rudulph plays bass internationally with major pop groups, and he credits his “record-breaking” father with launching his career. His dad left a church whose pastor spurned music, taught Rudulph and his siblings to play instruments, and formed a band to play for their new church. “We were like the Jackson Five of our church,” he recalls. But Rudulph could not confine himself to worship music. As their father worked long hours, he and his four siblings often tuned the radio to R&B. Earth, Wind, and Fire—the band whose album he saved—remains his favorite group and influence. “I love crazy horn lines, thick vocal harmonies, and funky bass lines—that music introduced a new thing: a bass line that signifies the song.” Rudulph developed his ear by playing along to the radio on the left-handed bass his father found for him. He also learned to read music, thanks to his father’s discipline. “My father was self-taught and hadn’t completely mastered sight-reading—but he was determined that we learn. From age 8 until college, he was my only music teacher. When I auditioned for APU, I got a scholarship in part for my music reading skills.” His sister, Desiree ’05, followed him to APU and a career in music, as did his youngest brother, Tyrone ’06, who became a professional drummer.

Rudulph’s recent musical accomplishments include touring in Armenia, Turkey, Russia, and Dubai with Persian pop group Kamran and Hooman, and recording and touring with Korean-American singer Clara C. He plays bass for pop singer/songwriter Andy Grammer—touring the U.S. in 2011, recording, and performing on The Rachael Ray Show, Live with Regis and Kelly, and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Rudulph feels particular pride about the Leno appearance, because Grammer entrusted him with the musical direction.

Television spots pose a special challenge for musicians. “On a TV appearance, we spend 12 hours to tape 3 minutes and 30 seconds. When the moment comes, it’s a cold start, and you have one chance to get it right.” But Rudulph emanates a joy that belies the trying circumstances. His wife, Diana (Valenciano ’03, M.A. ’05), assistant professor in APU’s Department of Exercise and Sport Science, says that this joy is manifested in all that he does and serves as an indicator of his faith. Sometimes, in a chat after a show, or on Facebook the next day, a fan will realize Rudulph is a Christian. “I knew it!” the fan will exclaim. “I could just tell.”

“That, to me, is the Holy Spirit moving,” Rudulph said. “It validates what I’m doing. I am determined to play in both Christian and secular contexts. How are musicians or fans of secular music going to experience Christ if they don’t see Christians?”

Go to zachonbass.com for a video of his Tonight Show and other appearances. Find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter (@zachonbass).

Originally published in the Spring '13 issue of APU Life. Download the full issue (PDF).