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Earth, Wind and Fire

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 locally.

They landed themselves a contract at Capitol Records as The Salty Peppers and recorded “La LaTime” 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.

After sending 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.

Although they 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 JessivaCleaves, 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 properly.

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.

Their second 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.

The following 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 Allappeared on the shelves and this too reached triple-platinum and included the hit singles “Fantasy” and “Serpentine Fire”.

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! whichshot 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”.

Five years 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 “Sunday Morning”.  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.

They were 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 managed to control the disease 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 Jazz Festival.

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 Riowhich 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 Grammy Jam.  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 Theatre.

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, passed away.

Maurice White 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 Award ceremony.

In 2007 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.  The following year in 2012 they were presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 20th Annual Trumpet Awards.  Sadly that same year the guitarist Roland Bautista died from natural causes at 60 years old.

In 2013 they were featured vocalists on “Something About You” on LL Cool J’s Authentic and they also released their first album for eight years Now, Then & Forever.  In 2014 they were performers in Hyde Park, London, with the BBC Concert Orchestra in Proms in the Park.  They followed that up by releasing Holiday which was their first holiday album and in December that year they gave performances at the Kennedy Center Honors where they honored Al Green and also Christmas in Washington.  2014 also brought them sadness with the loss of the percussionist Beloyd Taylor and the vocalist Jessica Cleaves.

In 2016 they suffered a huge loss when their co-founder Maurice White passed away suffering from Parkinson’s disease when he was 74 years old.   When once asked about the group Maurice White gave a memorable answer when he said “The essence of this band is hope”.