By Rhonda Campbell
Mind blowing music, particularly soul, jazz and rhythm and blues, has been a part of Earth, Wind and Fire’s live stage performances for four decades. Maurice White founded the band in 1969 after studying music at Chicago, Illinois’ Conservatory of Music. White who was born in Memphis, Tennessee on December 19, 1941, started singing almost at the same time that he began Kindergarten. His taste for eclectic music springs back to his post-college days when he played with Ramsey Louis’ band.
As reported at the official Earth, Wind and Fire website, the jazz great Ramsey Louis, a musician who continues to perform, had a profound impact on Maurice White. The band’s smooth, rhythmic singles like “Getaway,” “Imagination,” and “Serpentine Fire,” have an element of jazz at their core, evidence of White’s musical background.
Earth, Wind and Fire’s Musical Beginnings
Over the years Maurice White’s spiritual interests grew and expanded. Much of what he learned and came to believe about the world through the study of different religions found its way into his music. In 1969 White left Ramsey Louis’ group. He would later and soon form Earth, Wind and Fire.
A year after the nine-member band was formed it recorded its first album for Warner Brothers. Titled Earth, Wind and Fire that first album recorded hit songs like “Moment of Truth,” “Love is Life,” and “Fan the Fire.” It wasn’t the group’s strongest recording, but it did make Billboard’s Top 200 albums in 1971.
Funky Live Concert Performances by Earth, Wind and Fire
Merely the tip of the iceberg, the album put Earth, Wind and Fire on the music map. The band followed the album up with a string of live concert performances. This is where Earth, Wind and Fire made its mark. Seeing the band in concert was akin to being transported to another place and time, two to three hours of loud funky music serving as the escort. It’s not surprising that the band went on to include magic stunts into their sets while Verdine White strummed the bass guitar and Philip Bailey, who joined the band in 1972, sang his famous high pitched solos on popular songs like “Reasons” and “Keep Your Head to the Sky.”
A passionate devotion to music kept the men together, creating and performing one hit song after another. The hard work paid off. Five years after Earth, Wind and Fire recorded its first album the band won its first Grammy Award for its single “Shining Star.” A year later the group was nominated for three more Grammy Awards for “Gratitude,” “Earth, Wind and Fire” and “Can’t Hide Love.” From 1978 through 1979, the music band won a total of four Grammy Awards. It was as if Earth, Wind and Fire owned a pinnacle in the R&B world . . . it seemed.
Earth, Wind and Fire Connects With a Younger Generation
During the 1990s and early 2000s Earth, Wind and Fire, although still recording and performing, appeared to have gone deaf on the ears of a younger generation. Then the group performed live at the 2002 Black Entertainment Television (BET) Lifetime Achievement Awards show.
Maurice White, Philip Bailey, Ralph Johnson, Andrew Woolfolk, Sheldon Reynolds, Morris Pleasure and Sonny Emory took to the stage like they hadn’t missed a step in three decades or worried over their viability in the face of Rap’s rising popularity. They brought the audience to their feet and had people of all ages talking about their performance for days.
Since that time the group has been inducted into Hollywood’s Rock Walk, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and the Grammy Hall of Fame. March 9, 2009 Earth, Wind and Fire announced their joint summer 2009 tour with Chicago, another record setting music band who has its roots in the Windy City. Sales from the tour that kicked off on June 5 provided relief to America’s food banks. Three years later Earth, Wind and Fire is still performing rousing music concerts to sell out crowds, a testament to the band’s passion, business acumen and dedication to the art and craft of music.
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