Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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EARTH, WIND and FIRE

Soul dance band formed '69 by vocalist/drummer Maurice White (b 19 December 1941, Memphis TN; d 3 February 2016, Los Angeles) and his brother, bassist Verdine White (b 25 July 1951). Despite its absurd name it was a musical outfit, slick in the best sense, combining elements of Latin-funk beat, gospel, soul, rock etc in an influential way. Their grandfather played piano in New Orleans, father was a doctor; Maurice studied at a Chicago conservatory, was a house drummer at Chess label, toured with Ramsey Lewis '67-9, formed first band, recorded for Capitol as Salty Peppers, two LPs for WB as Earth, Wind and Fire: eponymous debut charted '71, The Need Of Love '72 made top 100 pop LPs. They re-formed on Columbia, The Last Days And Time '72 continuing climb up the charts: Head To The Sky '73 in top 30 LPs, now with stable personnel including sweet soul singer Philip Bailey (b 8 May 1951, Denver CO), Larry Dunn (b 19 June 1953, CO) on keyboards, Johnny Graham (b 3 August 1951, KY) and Al McKay (b 2 February 1948, LA) on guitars, Andre Woolfolk (b 11 October 1950, TX) on reeds (augmented from late '70s by four-piece Phoenix Horns), Ralph Johnson (b 4 July 1951, CA) on drums, joined c.1974 by a third brother Freddie White on drums (b 13 January 1955, Chicago). They were equal and opposite to the Parliament/Funkadelic low-down boogie empire of George Clinton, uplifting rather than hedonistic.

Open Our Eyes '74 was a no. 15 LP USA; two-disc Another Time '74 was a reissue of the first two WB LPs. That's The Way Of The World '75 was no. 1, including no. 1 single, Grammy-winning 'Shining Star' (LP was also soundtrack to a documentary film about the band); live/studio Gratitude same year also no. 1, with no. 5 hit 'Sing A Song'; Spirit '76 was no. 2, All 'N All '77 no. 3. They switched to their own custom ARC label with Best Of '78, no. 6 LP with two top ten hits including 'Got To Get You Into My Life', a high point of the otherwise panned Robert Stigwood movie Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; won more Grammys. I Am '79 was a no. 3 LP including no. 2 hit 'After The Love Has Gone', no. 6 'Boogie Wonderland' (latter with vocal group the Emotions); two-disc Faces '80 was no. 10, Raise! '81 no. 5 (incl. no. 2 hit 'Let's Groove'); Powerlight '83 was a switch to Columbia and slipped out of the top ten, Electric Universe '83 to no. 40; Touch The World '87 was top 40 but Heritage '90 had dropped to no. 70, with Sly Stone and MC Hammer; Millennium '93 on Reprise was top 40 again. Their '79 world-wide tour including special effects, dancers etc was designed by magician Doug Henning; '79 tour featured Maurice duelling with a Darth Vader figure. 

Maurice was influenced by his interest in Egyptology; he had taken up the kalimba (thumb piano) while with Ramsey Lewis and it became the band's trademark. He wrote Lewis's hit 'Sun Goddess' '75, produced the LP of that title; also produced for Deniece Williams, Valerie Carter and the Emotions: Jeanette, Wanda and Sheila Hutchinson, from Chicago, records on Stax/Volt (Theresa Davis depping for Jeanette), later Columbia (sister Pamela temporarily replacing Jeanette); biggest hit was no. 1 'Best Of My Love', written by Maurice and McKay, from no. 7 LP Rejoice '77. Maurice had stopped touring with the group '87 (20 years was enough); they re-formed for back-to-basics In The Name Of Love '97 on Eagle.