Maurice White founded Earth, Wind & Fire in Chicago in 1969. He had previously been a session drummer for Chess Records, where he played on the
songs of Fontella Bass, Billy Stewart, and Etta James, among others. In 1967, he had replaced Red Holt in the popular jazz group the Ramsey Lewis Trio,
where he was introduced to the Kalimba, an African thumb piano he would use extensively in future projects. In 1969, he left Lewis' group to form a
songwriting partnership with keyboardist Don Whitehead and singer Wade Flemons. This quickly evolved into a band dubbed The Salty Peppers, which
signed with Capitol and scored a regional hit with "La La Time." When a follow-up flopped, White decided to move to Los Angeles, and took most of the
band with him; he also renamed them Earth, Wind & Fire, after the three elements in his astrological charts. By the time White convinced his brother,
bassist Verdine White, to join him on the West Coast in 1970, the lineup also consisted of Whitehead, Flemons, female singer Sherry Scott, guitarist
Michael Beal, tenor saxophonist Chet Washington, trombonist Alex Thomas, and percussionist Yackov Ben Israel. This aggregate signed a new deal with
Warner Brothers Records and issued its self-titled debut album in late 1970. Many critics found it intriguing and ambitious, much like the 1971 follow-up,
"The Need Of Love," but neither attracted much commercial attention, despite a growing following on college campuses and a high-profile gig
performing the soundtrack to Melvin Van Peebles' ground breaking black independent film "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song."
The college touring led them through Denver which was home for an aspiring musician named Philip Bailey. Like Maurice White, Bailey began playing
drums by using two sticks on a trash can "and making a whole bunch of noise! While other kids were playing with toys, I was making mock saxophones!"
Dissatisfied with the results, White dismantled the first version of Earth, Wind & Fire in 1972, retaining only brother Verdine. He built a new lineup
with female vocalist Jessica Cleaves, flute/sax player Ronnie Laws, guitarist Roland Batista, keyboardist Larry Dunn, and percussionist Ralph Johnson; the
most important new addition, however, was singer Philip Bailey.
An audition for managers Bob Cavallo and Joe Ruffalo led to an association that continued uninterrupted until 1983, and Cavallo's management of John
Sebastian led to a series of gigs as opening act for the popular pop/folk singer. A performance at New York's Rockefeller Center introduced Earth,Wind &
Fire to Clive Davis, then President of Columbia Records. After seeing the group Davis signed them to CBS, where they debuted in 1972 with "Last Days
And Time." Further personnel changes ensued; Laws and Batista were gone by year's end, replaced by reed man Andrew Woolfolk and guitarists Al McKay
and Johnny Graham.
It was then that Earth,Wind & Fire truly began to hit their stride. 1973's "Head To The Sky" (Cleaves' last album with the group) significantly broadened their cult following, and the 1974 follow-up, "Open Our Eyes,"
was their first genuine hit. It marked their first collaboration with producer, arranger, and sometime songwriting collaborator Charles Stepney, who helped streamline their sound for wider acceptance; it also featured
another White brother, Fred, brought in as a second drummer. The single "Mighty Mighty" became Earth,Wind & Fire's first Top Ten hit on the R&B charts, although pop radio shied away from its black-pride subtext, and
the minor hit "Kalimba Story" brought Maurice White's infatuation with African sounds to the airwaves. "Open Our Eyes" went gold, setting the stage for the band's blockbuster breakthrough.
Maurice reveals: "This guy Sig Shore who had done the movie "Superfly" came to see us about doing a film. We decided to do the soundtrack. We were in the movie, trying to act. The movie flopped after three days.
But the album stood on its own. It was our time: the momentum had been building through the previous albums, through our live shows. We'd been a community band. 1975's "That's The Way Of The World" put us in
the mainstream." Not only did "That's The Way Of The World" provide Earth,Wind & Fire with their commercial breakthrough (as a double-platinum album featuring their first #-1 pop/r&b/disco hit in "Shining Star" and
the now classic "Reasons"), it also resulted in the group's move to larger stadiums. They packed Madison Square Garden in New York, and played medium-sized auditoriums for four and five nights at a time. Their emerging
concert experience was chronicled later that year on the double-LP set "Gratitude," which became their second straight number one album and featured one side of new studio tracks. Of those, "Sing A Song" reached the
pop Top Ten and the R&B Top Five, and the ballad "Can't Hide Love" and the title track were also successful.
Sadly, during the 1976 sessions for Earth,Wind & Fire's next studio album, "Spirit," Charles Stepney died suddenly of a heart attack. Maurice White took over the arranging chores, but the Stepney-produced "Getaway"
(the groups first promo-only 12" single) managed to top the R&B charts posthumously. "Spirit" naturally performed well on the charts, topping out at number two. In the meantime, White was taking a hand in producing
other acts; in addition to working with his old boss Ramsey Lewis, he helped kick start the careers of the Emotions and Deniece Williams.
1977's "All N' All" was another strong effort that charted at #-3 and spawned the R&B smashes "Fantasy" and the chart-topping "Serpentine Fire" (the groups' third 12" single) meanwhile, the Emotions topped the pop
charts with the White-helmed disco-smash "Best Of My Love." The following year, White founded his own label, ARC, and Earth,Wind & Fire appeared in the disastrous film version of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club
Band," turning in a fine cover of the Beatles' "Got To Get You Into My Life" (their fourth 12" single) that became their first Top Ten pop hit since "Sing A Song." Released before year's end, 1978's "The Best of Earth,
Wind & Fire, Vol. 1" produced another Top Ten hit (and R&B number one) in the newly recorded "September" (their fifth 12" single).
1979's "I Am" contained Earth,Wind & Fire's most explicit nod to disco, a smash collaboration with the Emotions called "Boogie Wonderland." The 12" single climbed into the Top Ten. The ballad "After The Love Has
Gone" did even better, falling one spot short of the top. Although "I Am" became Earth,Wind & Fire's sixth straight multi-platinum album, there were signs that the group's explosion of creativity over the past few years
was beginning to wane.
1980's "Faces" broke that string, after which guitarist McKay departed. The album produced two 12" singles "Let Me Talk" and "And Love Goes On" neither made an impact on the club charts or any chart for that matter.
While 1981's "Raise" brought them a Top Five hit and R&B chart-topper in "Let's Groove," an overall decline in consistency was becoming apparent. The 12" single of "Let's Groove" did well in the clubs and with a special
holiday remix it became their final disco charter.
By the time Earth,Wind & Fire issued its next album, 1983's "Powerlight," ARC had folded, and the Phoenix Horns had been cut loose to save money. After the lackluster "Electric Universe" which featured the minor club
hit "Moonwalk," White disbanded the group to simply take a break. In the meantime, Verdine White became a producer and video director, while Philip Bailey embarked on a solo career and scored a pop/club smash with
the Phil Collins duet "Easy Lover."
Bailey reunited with the White brothers, plus Andrew Woolfolk, Ralph Johnson, and new guitarist Sheldon Reynolds, in 1987 for the album "Touch The World." It was surprisingly successful, producing two R&B smashes in
"Thinking Of You" and the number one "System Of Survival." 1990's "Heritage" was a forced attempt to contemporize the group's sound, with guest appearances from Sly Stone and MC Hammer; its failure led to the end of
the group's relationship with Columbia. They returned on Reprise with the more traditional-sounding "Millennium" in 1993, but were dropped when the record failed to recapture their commercial standing despite a
Grammy nomination for "Sunday Morning"; tragedy struck that year when onetime horn leader Don Myrick was murdered in Los Angeles. Bailey and the White brothers returned once again in 1997 on the small Pyramid label
with "In The Name Of Love."
Earth, Wind & Fire was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 6th, 2000, by rapper Lil' Kim to a standing ovation. Following their induction the original members made a stab at reuniting. On February
24th, 2002, Earth, Wind & Fire performed at the closing ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City, Utah. "The Promise," the band's first studio album in six years, was released in 2003. "The Promise"
received critical acclaim upon its release. The album included songs reminiscent of classic Earth,Wind & Fire such as the kalimba laden track "All in the Way," which reunited them with The Emotions, and "Betcha'" and also
on it were two previously unreleased songs from the "I Am" sessions titled "Where Do We Go From Here" and "Dirty." The album went to #-19 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts and the song "Hold Me" was Grammy
nominated for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance.
In 2004 Earth, Wind & Fire and Chicago embarked upon a joint tour. The tour gave rise to the DVD "Live at the Greek Theatre," which was released June 28th, 2005, and was certified platinum just two months after its
release. Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire toured together again in 2005 and Earth, Wind & Fire collaborated with Chicago for a new recording of Chicago's ballad "If You Leave Me Now" that was included on Chicago's 2005
compilation album "Love Songs."
Earth, Wind & Fire performed at the White House February 22nd, 2009, at the Governors' Dinner, which was the first formal White House dinner hosted by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. That
year they toured again with Chicago to sold out concerts. The band is set to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010 in New York City. Without a doubt the group has earned their spot here for their
wonderful danceable tunes and for Maurice White's additional skills producing other disco hits for artists like Deniece Williams and the Emotions. To keep up with them visit their web site at: www.earthwindandfire.com