I conducted this research by finding scholarly journal articles that included both the members background information as well as the reasoning for the band being as successful as it was and its continued legacy. I learned a lot more about the band based on the articles. I researched the band primarily as an influence on the music world today. In that research, I was able to find more substantial evidence of how and why they were so successful in articles. I was first introduced to Earth, Wind & Fire when I was younger. Due to the fact that my parents and I share the birth month of September, we used to play the song “September” every day of the month as a family tradition until I went off to college. This song lead to my interest in doing more research on the band and selecting them as the topic of my paper.
Throughout the years, Black creatives and black music has been the most iconic parts of music. Earth, Wind and Fire is one of the trailblazers of their genre. The 11 members of the band have topped the charts in the soul, disco and funk genres. As the years have passed, the music that Earth, Wind and Fire created has stood the test of time. The band has gone on to be living legends of sorts. Earth, Wind and Fire has sold over 90 million albums world-wide and has gone multiplatinum several times throughout their career.
Earth, Wind & Fire is was born out of African and African-American music in the 1970s. While the band was predominantly focused on the R&B genre, they also crossed genres and created music that fit into the pop, funk, soul, blues, gospel and jazz categories. Composed of mainly 5 members, they also utilized back-up instrumentalists and vocalists which increased their numbers. Those members were both the lead singers and instrumentalists of the band. Each made meaningful contributions to the band which lead to their popularity. The lead singers of the band are Maurice White, Verdine White, Philip Bailey, Al McKay and Larry Dunn.
Maurice White was the founder, though some consider him the co-founder, of Earth, Wind & Fire. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee on December 19th, 1941. He is given major credit for the success of the band as a whole and has been acknowledged for composing some of the bands greatest hits such as “September.” White found his start in the music industry after attending the Chicago Conservatory of Music. He started out as a drummer for Chess Records where he worked various different sessions. In 1967, he began his career with the Ramsey Lewis Trio and then two years later, he started his own band called the Salty Peppers. His move to Los Angeles marked the creation of the band.
Next, is Verdine White. He is the younger brother of Maurice White and he was brought into the newly formed Earth, Wind & Fire as a bassist. Verdine was invited into the band in 1970, soon after which, the band became very successful and popular. When the band had taken a break, Verdine became a video director and a music producer. Verdine is currently married to Shelly Clark who was a member of a 1970s girl group.
Then, there is Philip Bailey. Born on May 8th, 1951 in Denver, Colorado. Bailey began his journey with Earth, Wind & Fire in 1972 when he was also invited into the band by Maurice White. Bailey was known for his falsetto vocal style. He was able to sing across four octaves. He had a part in the songwriting process of the band and had helped create some of their most popular songs including “Shining Star.” During the time that the band had taken a break, Bailey embarked upon a solo career. He won his seventh Grammy for his gospel album “Triumph.” Once the band reunited and White had decided to leave due to illness, Bailey took the lead and lead the group back to popularity in the 1990s.
After Bailey, there was Al McKay. McKay was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on February 2nd in 1948. He was a guitarist who started out as a member of Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm, who was a popular band in the 1970s as well. Al McKay officially became a member of Earth, Wind & Fire in 1972, just as Philip Bailey did. In the band, he playes the guitar, did percussion and even played the sitar. McKay was also a producer and songwriter and helped create some of their greatest hits such as “September” and “Sing a Song.” McKay left the group after they released their album “Faces” in 1980.
Lastly, there was Larry Dunn. Also born in Denver Colorado in June 19th, 1953. Dunn began his musical career as a keyboard player in a band as a teenager. One of his bandmates was Philip Bailey who was also a member of Earth, Wind & Fire. After his teenage band split up and Bailey went to join Earth, Wind & Fire, the band was in desperate need of a keyboard player. Bailey had suggested Dunn to fill the position and in 1972 Dunn also became a member of the band. In addition to playing the keyboard for the band, he also played the organ and the synthesizer. He also acted as their musical director for a period of time.
While the band was the music child of Maurice White, there are other notable influences that contributed to the success of Earth, Wind & Fire. One of those notable influences being Ralph Johnson. Johnson is one of the lesser known members of the band and one that is certainly often left out of the bands history.
Ralph Johnson was one of the percussive backbones that contributed to the bands sound. Johnson got his start at a very young age. By the age of 14, he was performing at different gigs. Prior to joining Earth, Wind & Fire, Johnson was apart of a band called the Master’s Children. Before that, it was said that he was always in some sort of band. Johnson joined Earth, Wind & Fire after he had received a phone call about an audition in 1971. But by the time their European tour came about, he had become one of the vocalists.
Another influence that contributed to the success of Earth, Wind & Fire is the Kalimba Entertainment. This company was also created by Maurice White. Kalimba was responsible for producing several of the bands albums. Although the company was created by White, the company did not solely focus on Earth, Wind & Fire. Kalimba Entertainment signed other artists such as Deneice Williams.
Earth, Wind and Fire
The Need of Love
Last Days and Time
Head to the Sky
Open Our Eyes
Columbia / Legacy
That’s the Way of the World
Columbia / Legacy
All ‘N All
Columbia / Legacy
Columbia / Legacy
Touch the World
In the Name of Love
Now, Then & Forever
Today, though not all the original members participate, the band continues to tour and perform across the world. After the band went on a hiatus and then reunited, Maurice White officially left the band. He later passed away from Parkinson’s disease at the age of 74 on February 3rd, 2016. He was the first and only original member of the group to pass away.
Philip Bailey now leads the group but he has other projects outside of the band, including a film titled “Love is Real.” He also became a member of the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2010. Bailey now as the pleasure of working with his son Philip D. Bailey. His son works with the group as a vocalist, songwriter and producer.
Verdine White, brother of Maurice White, is still apart of the band today. Verdine had rejoined the band after they had ended their four year hiatus. He was able to play in front of both the Clinton and Obama presidential administrations. As he continues to tour and perform today, he was also inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
After the band has reunited after its hiatus, Al McKay did not rejoin the band. Instead he created his own band titled the LA Allstars in 1990. They later went on to be known as the Al McKay Allstars. McKay’s new band now performs across the world. He also partakes in various interviews with station such as Tahiti’s Radio 1.
Larry Dunn also went on to find a life outside the band once the hiatus began and he never rejoined. He begun to write and produce music for Japanese commercials and movies. He also released two solo albums titled “Lover’s Silhouette” in 1992 and “N2 the Journey” in 2011. In 2011, he also participated in the groups 40th anniversary tour. He also helped create their 2013 album: “Now, Then & Forever.”
During the prime of Earth, Wind & Fire the band received six Grammy Awards. The band also had the pleasure of having many platinum, gold and multi-platinum albums. The band was also able to have many chart topping songs. Earth, Wind & Fire had one #1 song and seven top ten songs in the chart out of their 33 songs throughout their career. Their #1 song on the charts was “Shining Star,” which topped the charts on May 24th, 1975. Out of their 33 original songs, some that found their way to the top of the charts include “Let’s Groove” and “Boogie Wonderland.” These songs topped the charts at number three and number six (respectively) in 1979 and 1981 respectively. The band members each received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1995. And they also were all inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.
“Earth, Wind & Fire.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 2 Apr. 2014, www.biography.com/people/groups/earth-wind-fire.
“Earth, Wind & Fire.” Billboard, www.billboard.com/music/earth-wind-fire.
Flans, Robyn. “Triumvirate: Earth, Wind & Fire’s Ralph Johnson – Freddie White – Philip Bailey.” Modern Drummer Magazine, www.moderndrummer.com/article/february-march-1982-triumvirate-earth-wind-fires-ralph-johnson-freddie-white-philip-bailey/.
Gardner, Elysa. “Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White Was a Shining Star of R&B.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 5 Feb. 2016, www.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2016/02/04/earth-wind-fires-maurice-white-shining-star-rb/79846532/.
Grow, Kory. “Maurice White Dead; Earth, Wind & Fire Singer Dies at 74.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 4 Feb. 2016, www.rollingstone.com/music/news/maurice-white-earth-wind-fire-singer-and-co-founder-dead-at-74-20160204.
Huey, Steve. “Earth, Wind & Fire | Album Discography.” AllMusic, RhythmOne Group, www.allmusic.com/artist/earth-wind-fire-mn0000135273/discography.
Wang, Oliver, et al. “Earth, Wind & Fire: 12 Essential Songs.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 5 Feb. 2016, www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/earth-wind-fire-12-essential-songs-20160204/sing-a-song-1975-20160204.