This group originally
came from Chicago, Illinois where the song-writing trio of Maurice
White, Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead
got together in 1962 to become a song-writing trio and publish their work
themselves a contract at Capitol Records as The Salty Peppers and recorded
“La La Time” which achieved minor hit
status in the Midwest.
The follow up “Uh Huh Yeah” didn’t get the same
amount of attention and so Maurice took the decision to move to Los Angeles so the three of them, plus the
percussionist Yackov Ben Israel and singer Sherry
Scott made their way. The
bassist, Verdine who was Maurice’s brother,
was asked to join their band in 1970.
out demos to various companies the group achieved their goal when Warner
Bros. Records took them on.
They became what we now know as Earth, Wind and Fire which was
chosen by Maurice and is the elements of his birth sign of Sagittarius.
The took on
extra musicians to expand the group into a 10-man band and released their
critically acclaimed debut Earth, Wind, Fire in February 1971 and followed
it up that same year with The Need of
Love. This second album saw
them gaining a Top 40 hit in the R&B charts with “I Think About Lovin’ You”. In that same year they were also
chosen to record the soundtrack for the movie Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song which was issued on the Stax Record label.
were starting to see success they weren’t happy and so they split up
after only being together for a short time.
Maurice and Verdine were the only ones left and so they made the
decision to get a new line-up and get EWF back together in 1972. They managed to amass the singers
Philip Bailey and Jessiva Cleaves, Roland
Bautista on rhythm guitar, Larry Dunn on keyboards, Ralph Johnson on
percussion and the flautist Ronnie Laws. They also changed their record
label to CBS/Columbia as Warner Brothers weren’t able to promote them
They released Last Days and Time which included
the covers of two previous hit songs “Make It With You” by
David Gates and “Where have all the Flowers Gone” by Pete Seeger that were used at the suggestion of Philip
Bailey. The album made it into
the charts and “Mom” scratched the surface of the singles chart.
album with CBS/Columbia, Head to the
Sky, proved more successful in 1973 which saw chart hits with
“Evil” and “Keep Your Head to the Sky”. Their singer Jessica Cleaves decided
to move onto something else, as did Roland Bautista and Ronnie Laws, but
the rhythm guitarists Johnny Graham and Al McKay and the saxophonist Andrew
Woofolk were brought in and Maurice also took
over lead vocals.
In 1974 they
recruited Maurice and Verdine’s brother
Fred on drums and released Open Your
Eyes, co-produced by Maurice White, which reached platinum status. It also contained the songs
“Devotion” and “Mighty Mighty”
which was the first single they had which reached the Top 30 on the
Billboard Hot 100. The group
also worked with Ramsey Lewis on his chart-topping album Sun Goddess.
year they were cast in the role of The Group in the That’s the Way of the World with Harvey Keitel playing the part of their producer. They were so disappointed with the
way it turned out that they released an album of the same name which would
bring them huge success when it went triple-platinum and got to No. 1 on
both the R&B and Billboard album charts. It also allowed them to reach No. 1
on the Billboard Hot 100 when their “Shining Star” was released
and brought them a Grammy Award and the accolade of being the first black
act to reach the top spot on the singles and album chart at the same
time. This gave them the chance
to expand further and get Rahmlee Davis, Michael
Harris, Don Myrick and Louis Satterfield into their new brass section known
as The Phenix Horns.
As the opening
act for Santana, they toured Europe
for the first time. When they
got back to the United States in 1975 they went into the studio and
started recording again. They
released the double album Gratitude
of mainly live material from 1974/5 tours but with the addition of the two
single releases “Can’t Hide Love” and “Sing a
Song”. Once again the
album topped the Billboard and R&B album charts. Also in 1975 Maurice White decided
to expand his interests in the music industry when he started Kalimba Productions and aside from EWF the company also
included the hit artists The Emotions and Deniece
Williams among those they had signed up.
In 1976 they
released Spirit which included the hits “Saturday Nite”
and “Getaway” and the title song was a tribute to their
recently deceased producer Charles Stepney. The next year All ‘N All appeared on the shelves and this too reached
triple-platinum and included the hit singles “Fantasy” and
They had a
successful time at the Grammy Award ceremony in 1978 where they won three
for their cover version of “Got to Get You Into My Life” which
they had performed in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band film. That same year The American Recording
Company label was launched by EWF management and Maurice White with a new
studio known as The Complex and the recordings still bring distributed by
CBS. They released the
compilation The Best of Earth, Wind
& Fire, Vol. 1 and included their latest
hit single “September” on it. The album went quintuple platinum.
After EWF had
donated their royalties to UNICEF from a performance they made at the Music
for UNICEF Concert in 1979 they embarked on a Japanese and European
tour. Also in 1979 they
released their hugely successful double platinum I Am. As always there were several hit
singles including “After the Love Has Gone”, “Can’t
Let Go” and “In the Stone” and “Boogie
Wonderland” where they were joined by The Emotions and topped the
Dance Music charts.
The 1980s came
along and EWF were no less busy.
Their 1980 gold status double album release Faces was another
success. Following this release
Al McKay left the band and Roland Bautista on rhythm guitar made his
return. Maurice White took the
decision that as everything was changing the band should start to use
digital sound. The result of
this new style was 1981’s Raise!
which shot to platinum status for the album and
the single “Let’s Groove”. They also won another Grammy Award
for “Wanna Be With You”.
It was another
two years later when Powerlight went gold after its release in 1983
with the release of the singles “Side by Side” and “Fall
in Love With Me” which reached No.17 on the Billboard Hot 100.
That same year
Electric Universe appeared but it
did not receive anything like the success of the previous 8 or 9 albums and
so Maurice White thought it best they took a break for a while. This opened up the opportunity
for Philip Bailey to concentrate on his solo career where he found his own
success with Chinese Wall and the
Grammy Award winning duet with Phil Collins “Easy Lover”. He went on to release several
further albums including the Grammy Award winning Triumph. Verdine White produced Standing in the Light for Level 42
and helped promote E.U. and Trouble Funk. The Phenix
Horns went on to record and tour with Phil Collins and Genesis. Maurice White produced Emotion for
Barbra Streisand, worked with Cher and Neil Diamond and then released his
own Maurice White with the chart
hit cover of “Stand By Me”.
after EWF had gone into hiatus the people at CBS managed to get Maurice
White and Phil Bailey that a reunion of the band would be good. Some of the original members as well
as several new ones and the new Earth, Wind & Fire Horns made up the
new line-up. Their first album
recorded was Touch the World released in 1987 and gaining gold status. It also produced the hit singles
“System of Survival” and “Thinking of You”.
In 1988 the
gold status The Best of Earth, Wind
& Fire, Vol.2 was released and in 1990 they released Heritage which would be their last
issued by CBS/Columbia. Two
years later The Eternal Dance was
a 55-track anthology appeared.
In 1993 they
were snapped up for the second time by Warner Bros Records and released Millennium, which would be their 16th
studio album. This included the
track “Super Hero” written by Prince and the Grammy nominated
1993 wasn’t the easiest time for the band however, as they had
to cope with the loss of the previous members Wade Flemons,
who died from cancer and Don Myrick who was mistakenly shot by the police.
finally recognised for their massive contribution to music when they were
inducted into the NAACP Hall of Fame in 1994 and got a star on the Hollywood
Walk of Fame in 1995 which saw the attendance of all the original members.
Later in 1995 Maurice White announced he was retiring from touring and
passed the leading role to Philip Bailey. The real reason for his retirement
from touring was not known until 1999 when he made the announcement that he
had, in fact, been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He still manages to control the
disease today and continued to be involved in recording and production.
In the Name of
Love appeared on the shelves in 1997 and later that year, as well as in
1998, the group gave a performance at the Montreux
Into the new
millennium and EWF were still in the fray. They were inducted into the Rock and
Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, where the original members reunited and gave
their first performance in over 20 years. That same year the band performed
for President Clinton and the King of Morocco at the White House and they
made such an impact that they were asked to perform at the celebrations for
the King’s 37th birthday in Morocco.
The next year the documentary film Shining Stars: The Official Story of Earth, Wind & Fire was
issued and the band contributed $25,000 to the American Red Cross in the
wake of the 9/11 attacks.
In 2002 they
performed at the Winter Olympics closing ceremony and they released Live in Rio which was a performance
that they made in 1980. Also in
2002 they were presented with the Rhythm & Soul Heritage Award by
ASCAP. In 2003 they were
inducted into Hollywood’s Rock Walk and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. They also
released The Promise that same
year which reached No. 19 in the R&B/Hip-Hop album chart and had the
track “Hold Me” gaining a Grammy nomination.
In 2004 they
gave a performance at the 48th Grammy Award ceremony and many
artists paid tribute to them when they were honoured at the first annual
They signed a contract with Sanctuary Urban Records in the summer of
that year. They also released
the DVD Earth, Wind & Fire Live
at Montreux 1997 and
recorded “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” in 2004 as their
contribution to Power of Soul: A
Tribute to Jimi Hendrix. There were further contributions to
recordings by other artists including “The Way You Move” by
Kenny G and then they teamed up with the group Chicago and went on a
national tour with the resultant platinum status DVD Chicago & Earth, Wind & Fire – Live at the Greek
When 2005 came
around they gave a pre-game performance at the Super Bowl XXXIX before
appearing in concert in Russia for the first time and touring with Chicago for a second time as well as recording a
joint version of “If You Leave Me Now”. They put out their 19th
studio album, the Soul Train Award winning and Grammy nominated Illuminations which went to No.8 and
No.32 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop and Billboard album charts
respectively. The album
contained the Grammy nominated single “Show Me the Way” with
Raphael Saadiq. Also in 2005 they performed with the
Black Eyed Peas at the Emmy Awards and released
their Christmas single “Gather Round”. The year didn’t go without
sadness though when Louis Satterfield, who had been their trombonist,
was still working away in 2006 when he collaborated with Maurice Hines on
the Broadway musical Hot Feet.
EWF were also busy that year and gave a performance at the Grammy
Maurice produced the cover album Interpretations;
Celebrating the Music of Earth, Wind & Fire with the tracks
“That’s the Way of the World” by Angie Stone Dwele and “Fantasy” by Meshell
Ndegeocello earning Grammy nominations. The group performed a medley of
their hits for the opening for the TV programme “Idol Gives
Back”, was awarded with the “Gaviota
de Plata” at the Vina del Mar Festival in Chile and later appeared in Norway at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert.
The next year
the group performed at the US Open opening ceremony and Columbia College, Chicago awarded honorary degrees to Maurice and Verdine White, Philip Bailey and Ralph Johnson. Verdine
White also received the Lifetime Award from Bass Player magazine.
In 2009 they
performed at the Governor’s Dinner hosted by President Obama and the First Lady at the White House. They also embarked on their third
tour with Chicago in 2009 and gave performances at the 39th
and 40th New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
In 2010 Philip
Bailey, Ralph Johnson and Verdine White performed
on “We Are the World 25 for Haiti” and all the original group
members were inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
In the second
decade of the new millennium the group were still being recognised for
their contribution to music when they attended the 2011 Soul Train Awards
and were presented with the Legend Award.
asked about the group Maurice White gave a memorable answer when he said
“The essence of this band is hope”.