Earth, Wind & Fire (abbreviated as EW&F or simply EWF) is an American band that has spanned the musical genres of R&B, soul, funk, jazz, disco, pop, rock, dance, Latin, and Afro pop. They have been described as one of the most innovative and commercially successful acts of all time. Rolling Stone called them «innovative, precise yet sensual, calculated yet galvanizing» and declared that the band «changed the sound of black pop».VH1 has also described EWF as «one of the greatest bands» ever.
The band was founded in Chicago by Maurice White in 1969, having grown out of a previous band known as the Salty Peppers. Other prominent members of EWF have included Philip Bailey, Verdine White, Ralph Johnson, Larry Dunn, Al McKay, Roland Bautista, Sonny Emory, Sheldon Reynolds and Andrew Woolfolk. The band is known for its dynamic horn section, kalimba sound, energetic and elaborate stage shows, and the contrast between Philip Bailey’s falsetto vocals and Maurice White’s baritone.
The band has won six Grammys from their 17 nominations. They have won four American Music Awards out of 12 nominations. They have also been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and sold over 90 million records, making them one of the world’s best-selling bands of all time. EWF has been inducted into the NAACP Image Award Hall of Fame and Hollywood’s Rockwalk. The band have received an ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Heritage Award, BET Lifetime Achievement Award, and Soul Train Legend Award. EWF has received a NARAS Signature Governor’s Award, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and the 2012 Congressional Horizon Award.
In 1969, Maurice White, a former session drummer for Chess Records and former member of the Ramsey Lewis Trio, joined two friends in Chicago, Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead, as a songwriting team composing songs and commercials in the Chicago area. The three friends eventually got a recording contract with Capitol Records. Calling themselves «The Salty Peppers», they went on to have a marginal hit single in the Midwestern area entitled «La La Time».
The Salty Peppers’ second single, «Uh Huh Yeah», did not fare as well. Maurice moved on from Chicago to Los Angeles. He added to the band singer Sherry Scott and percussionist Yackov Ben Israel, both from Chicago, and then asked his younger brother Verdine how he would feel about heading out to the West Coast. On June 6, 1970, Verdine left Chicago to join the band as their new bassist. Maurice began shipping demo tapes of the band, featuring Donny Hathaway, around to different record labels and the band was thus signed to Warner Bros. Records.
1970–1973: Formation and early years
Maurice’s astrological sign, Sagittarius, has a primary elemental quality of Fire and seasonal qualities of Earth and Air, according to classical triplicities. Sagittarius in the northern hemisphere occurs in the autumn, whose element is earth, and in the southern hemisphere, it is spring, whose element is air. Hence the omission of Water, the fourth classical element. Based on this, he changed the band’s name, to «Earth, Wind & Fire». Maurice held further auditions in L.A. where he added Michael Beal on guitar, Chester Washington on reeds, and Leslie Drayton on trumpet. With Maurice as a percussionist and lead vocalist Drayton also served as the group’s musical arranger. Trombonist Alex Thomas completed the then ten-man EWF lineup.
The band’s self-titled debut album was released in February 1971 on Warner Bros. The album got to No. 24 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums chart.
Rolling Stone noted a «heavy Sly influence» and the «smooth harmonies» of The Fifth Dimension on the LP».The Detroit Free Press also called the EWF’s music a mix of «Afro-gospel-jazz-blues-rock» on the album.
EWF went on to perform the entire soundtrack of the Melvin Van Peebles feature film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. The soundtrack, composed by Van Peebles, was released in April 1971 on Stax Records. The album reached No. 13 on the Billboard Top R&B Albums chart.
During November 1971 EWF’s sophomore album entitled The Need of Love was issued. The LP got to No. 35 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums chart.
AllMusic described the LP as one with an «abstract sense of composition».The Chicago Sun Times also called The Need of Love «a unique sound» which «works beautifully».
A single from the album called «I Think About Lovin’ You» reached No. 44 on the Billboard Hot Soul Songs chart.
The band developed a growing popularity on college campuses but, in spite of this, some members of EWF started to become restless and the band broke up after having been together less than six months. With only Verdine left, Maurice decided to re-form the group.
In 1972, Maurice added vocalist Helena Davis, Ronnie Laws on the flute and saxophone, rhythm guitarist Roland Bautista, keyboardist Larry Dunn, vocalist Philip Bailey and percussionist Ralph Johnson to the group. Davis was soon replaced by Jessica Cleaves, a former member of the R&B group The Friends of Distinction.
The band successfully auditioned for managers Bob Cavallo and Joe Ruffalo. Cavallo’s management of John Sebastian led to a series of gigs as the opening act for the pop/folk singer and The Lovin’ Spoonful founder. A performance at New York’s Rockefeller Center introduced EWF to Clive Davis, then the President of Columbia Records. Davis was very impressed with the band’s performance and bought out their contract from Warner Bros.
Their debut album on CBS/Columbia Records, Last Days and Time was issued in October 1972. Allmusic described Last Days and Time as mix of «every ecletic foray of Motown», «Sly and the Family Stone’s R&B» and the «fusion style of Weather Report». The LA Daily News also declared that the LP is full of «moving tunes» which «sprouts forth with a fresh sound».The album got to No. 15 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums chart. A single called «Mom» got to No. 39 on the Cashbox Top R&B Singles chart.
Soon thereafter Roland Bautista and Ronnie Laws left the band to pursue new musical opportunities Denver native Philip Bailey recommended his former East High School classmate, saxophonist Andrew Woolfolk as a replacement for Laws. Woolfolk had been busy in New York studying sax with sax maestro Joe Henderson and was due to start a career in banking at the time. To fill the void created by Bautista’s departure, guitarists Al McKay and Johnny Graham were added to round out the new lineup. Graham previously played with the R&B group New Birth while McKay was a former member of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue and The Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band.
EWF’s fourth studio album Head to the Sky was released in May 1973. The album rose to Nos. 2 & 27 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums and Billboard 200 charts respectively. Head to the Sky has also been certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
Rolling Stone declared that EWF «sound cosmic» with music that’s «fluid and enveloping» on a «quite satisyfing» album. Billboard also noted that the band «does everything well» on the LP.
A single off the LP entitled «Evil» got to Nos. 19 & 25 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Songs and Hot Soul Songs charts respectively. Another single called «Keep Your Head to the Sky» rose to No. 23 on the Billboard Hot Soul Songs chart. Jessica Cleaves left the band after the release of this album.
The band’s follow-up album was co-produced by Maurice and Joe Wissert. This LP was recorded at Colorado’s Caribou Ranch Studio and issued under the title of Open Our Eyes in March 1974. Rolling Stone called Open Our Eyes «cheerful» and a «pleasant miscellany. The Village Voice’s Robert Christgau also described the album as a complete «tour de force». The album rose to Nos. 1 & 15 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums and Top Pop Albums charts respectively. Open Our Eyes was certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
A single off the LP called «Mighty Mighty» reached Nos. 4 & 29 on the Billboard Hot Soul Songs and Hot 100 charts respectively. Another single entitled «Kalimba Story» rose to No. 6 on the Billboard Hot Soul Songs chart. A song called «Devotion» also got to Nos. 23 & 33 on the Billboard Hot Soul Songs and Hot 100 charts respectively.
After Open Our Eyes was issued, Maurice’s younger brother, Fred White, joined the band. He had previously played in Chicago clubs as a drummer with Donny Hathaway and Little Feat.
On April 6, 1974, EWF performed at the California Jam, a West Coast rock festival that attracted an audience of 200,000. The concert was televised in the US on May 10, 1974 by ABC.
In September 1974 a compilation album entitled Another Time with songs from EWF’s first two studio albums was released by Warner Bros. The album got to No. 29 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums chart.
1974–1979: Ornate sound
The band collaborated with Ramsey Lewis on his album Sun Goddess which was produced by Maurice and issued in late 1974 by Columbia. The album got to Nos. 1 & 12 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums and Billboard 200 charts respectively. The LP’s title track rose to No. 20 on the Billboard Hot Soul Songs chart. Sun Goddess was certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
During 1975, EWF was approached by Sig Shore, producer of the motion picture Super Fly, to record the soundtrack to a new film entitled That’s the Way of the World. With a screenplay from Robert Lipsyte, the movie was produced and directed by Shore. The film starred Harvey Keitel, Ed Nelson, EWF as «The Group» and Maurice as Early, «The Group»‘s leader. Keitel played the role of a record producer who hears «The Group» performing and is wowed by their act.
When the band saw the film they were convinced that it would become a box office bomb, which it eventually was. They therefore released the movie’s soundtrack before the film’s premiere. The LP was produced by Maurice and Charles Stepney and recorded at the Caribou Ranch Studio. Stepney had previously worked with artists such as The Dells, The Rotary Connection, Terry Callier and Minnie Riperton. That’s the Way of the World was eventually issued in March 1975 by Columbia. The album rose to No. 1 on both the Billboard 200 and Top Soul Albums charts. The album was warmly received by critics. Billboard Magazine called it «a very tightly produced and performed package.» The BBC described it as a «soul masterpiece». With the LP, EWF became the first black act to top both the Billboard album and singles charts. The album was certified Triple Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
Off the LP came the single «Shining Star», which rose to number one on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Singles charts. It also won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. The album’s title track, «That’s the Way of the World», also reached Nos. 5 & 12 on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles and Hot 100 charts respectively.
Because of the album’s tremendous commercial success, the band was able to hire a full horn section, which was dubbed the Phenix Horns. They were composed of saxophonist Don Myrick, trombonist Louis Satterfield, and trumpeters Rahmlee Davis and Michael Harris. Myrick and Satterfield had both worked with Maurice during his days as a session drummer at Chess Records.
After their first tour of Europe EWF returned to the studio in June 1975 for a follow-up release. The band eventually came away with an album of mostly live concert material together with some newly recorded tracks. As a double LP the new album entitled Gratitude was issued in November 1975. It rose to No. 1 on both the Billboard 200 and Top Soul Albums charts respectively. The album was certified Triple Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
With the LP came the song «Sing a Song», which rose to Nos. 1 & 5 on the Billboard Hot Soul Songs and Hot 100 charts respectively. The single «Can’t Hide Love» got to No. 11 on the Billboard Hot Soul Songs chart. «Can’t Hide Love» was also Grammy-nominated for Best Arrangement For Voices.
EWF went on to win a Rock Music Award in the category of Best Soul Album for Gratitude. The album’s title track was Grammy-nominated in the category of Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. EWF also won DownBeat’s 1975 Reader’s Poll for favourite Rock/Blues Group.
During 1975, Maurice established a production company called Kalimba Productions. Artists such as his former bandleader Ramsey Lewis; singer Deniece Williams, who had once been a member of Stevie Wonder’s «Wonderlove» backup group; and girl group The Emotions, were signed to the production company. Maurice loaned the band’s signature Phenix Horns and most of the other band members and put these and others artists who were signed to Kalimba Productions on tour with EWF.
While co-producing and arranging EWF’s follow-up LP, Deniece Williams’s debut album, This Is Niecy, Ramsey Lewis’s Salongo, and The Emotions’s Flowers, their first album on Columbia Records, Charles Stepney died of a heart attack on May 17, 1976 in Chicago at the age of 43.
With Stepney’s death, Maurice went on to solely produce the band’s new LP, Spirit, which was issued in October 1976. With the album’s title EWF paid tribute to Stepney. The LP rose to No. 2 on both the Billboard Top Pop Albums and Top Soul Albums chart. Vibe called the album «one of the group’s defining moments» and «soul for the ages».The New York Times also described Spirit as an LP which crosses «any stylistic formats» of music. Spirit was certified double Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
A single off the LP called «Getaway» reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Soul Songs chart. The song also rose to No. 12 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Dance Club Play charts. Another single entitled «Saturday Nite reached Nos. 4 & 21 on the Billboard Hot Soul Songs and Hot 100 charts respectively. «Saturday Nite» also rose to Nos. 12 & 17 on both the Billboard Dance Club Songs and UK Singles charts, respectively. The album cut Earth, Wind and Fire was Grammy nominated for Best Instrumental Composition. EW&F also topped Down Beat’s 1976 Readers Poll for best vocal group.
During this period EWF concerts started to become loaded with pyrotechnics, magic, laser lights, flying pyramids, levitating guitarists and elaborate production tricks that included the entire group ascending in a pyramid and a disappearing act. The stage magician Doug Henning was thus with many of their tours with his young assistant and eventual successor, David Copperfield. The band also began to be choreographed by George Faison.
In November 1977 EWF released All ‘n All, their eight studio album It was inspired via a month long trip by Maurice White through Argentina and Brazil. The album rose to No. 1 & 3 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums and Billboard 200 charts respectively. The New York Times described the LP as moreso «jazz rock».The Village Voice also noted «Focusing soulful horns, high-tension harmonies, and rhythms and textures from many lands» on the album which «cooks throughout». All ‘n All won a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus. The album was certified Triple Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
A song off the LP called «Serpentine Fire» rose to Nos. 1 & 13 on the Billboard Hot Soul Songs and Hot 100 charts respectively. Another single entitled «Fantasy» reached Nos. 12 & 14 on the Billboard Hot Soul Songs and UK Singles charts. «Fantasy» was Grammy nominated in the category of Best R&B Song. A track off the LP called «Runnin» won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Instrumental.
During April 1978 the band featured on Natalie Cole’s special aired on CBS where they performed a medley.
EWF also appeared in the July 1978 feature film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band where they performed a cover of The Beatles’s «Got to Get You into My Life». The song was eventually added to the movie’s soundtrack. However, the film was a commercial failure, as That’s the Way of the World had been years before. EWF’s rendition of «Got to Get You into My Life» was the biggest hit from the movie’s soundtrack, reaching Nos. 1 & 9 on the Billboard R&B and Pop singles charts, respectively. The song was Grammy-nominated in the category of Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus. It went on to win a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s). The movie’s soundtrack was certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
During 1978 Maurice established a vanity label of CBS entitled The American Recording Company, and alongside sound engineer George Massenburg, a new recording studio called «The Complex» in West Los Angeles. Within November 1978 EWF issued a compilation album on the new label entitled The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1. It rose to Nos. 3 & 6 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums and Billboard 200 charts respectively. The album was certified Quintuple Platinum in the U.S. by the RIAA.
A single entitled September» rose to Nos. 1 & 8 on the Billboard Hot Soul Songs and Hot 100 respectively. September also got to No. 3 on the UK Singles chart.
Within January 1979 the band performed «September» and «That’s the Way of the World» at the Music for UNICEF Concert. The concert was broadcast worldwide from the United Nations General Assembly by NBC. Other artists who performed at the event were ABBA, the Bee Gees, Olivia Newton-John, Donna Summer and Rod Stewart. The concert was Emmy-nominated in the category of Outstanding Individual Achievement – Special Class.
During June 1979 EWF issued their ninth studio album, I Am. The LP rose to Nos. 1 & 3 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums and Billboard 200 charts. I Am was certified Double Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
A song off the LP entitled «Boogie Wonderland» featuring The Emotions got to Nos. 2 & 6 on the Billboard Hot Soul Songs and Hot 100 charts respectively. The song was also Grammy nominated in the categories of Best Disco Recording and Best R&B Instrumental Performance.
Another single called «After the Love Has Gone» reached No. 2 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Songs charts. The song also reached No. 3 on both the Billboard Adult Contemporary Songs and UK Singles charts. The ballad was Grammy-nominated in the category of Record of the Year. «After the Love Has Gone» also won a Grammy for the Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.
1980–1996: Digital Sound
During October 1980 EWF issued a double album entitled Faces. This LP was in the emerging Post Disco style and was partly recorded in the Caribbean island of Montserrat. The album rose to No. 2 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums chart and No. 10 on both the Billboard 200 and UK Albums charts. Faces was certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
In a 2007 interview, when asked which EWF album was his favorite, Maurice White replied: «Probably Faces because we were really in tune…and it gave us the opportunity to explore new areas.» Soon after its release guitarist Al McKay left the band.
The Los Angeles Times called Faces «the R&B album of the year». The Chicago Sun Times also described the album as «a set of intricately produced, high gloss funk».
A song off the LP entitled «Let Me Talk» reached No. 8 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart and No. 29 on the UK Singles Chart. Another single called «You» got to No. 10 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart and No. 30 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Songs chart. As a single, «And Love Goes On» rose to No. 15 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart.
White decided that, given the changing musical landscape, the band needed to incorporate into their work more of the electronic sound which was popular at the time. As a result, EWF’s eleventh album, Raise!, was influenced by this new electronic sound and released in the fall of 1981. With this album rhythm guitarist Roland Bautista returned to EWF. Bautista went on to give the band a bit of a hard rock feel in his playing. Raise! was certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA, Gold in the UK by the BPI and Gold in Canada by Music Canada. With the LP came the song «Let’s Groove,» which was certified Gold in the US by the RIAA. «Let’s Groove» was Grammy-nominated in the category of Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Another single entitled «Wanna Be With You» won EWF a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group. EWF appeared at American Bandstand’s 30th Anniversary Special, where they performed «Let’s Groove» on October 30, 1981.
In 1981 the Phenix Horns also began their frequent collaborations with Phil Collins and his band Genesis.
During February 1983 the band issued a studio album entitled Powerlight. The album rose to Nos. 4 & 12 on the Billboard Top R&B Albums and Billboard 200 charts respectively. Powerlight was certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
Vanity Fair described Powerlight as «an oddysey of uplift». The Village Voice’s Robert Christgau also declared that on the LP «we’re free to gape at this band’s spectacular popcraft».
The album’s first single «Fall in Love with Me» rose to Nos. 17 & 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R&B Songs charts respectively. «Fall in Love with Me» was Grammy-nominated for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. A second single entitled «Side by Side» got to No. 15 on the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart.
EWF went on to appear on the soundtrack of the April 1983 animated feature film Rock & Rule with the song «Dance, Dance, Dance». Artists such as Debbie Harry of Blondie, Lou Reed and Cheap Trick also featured on the soundtrack. LA Weekly noted «Earth, Wind & Fire’s funky club jam Dance, Dance, Dance» as the «standout track» of the soundtrack. Rock & Rule was the first feature film of Nelvana Studios and has since gone on to become a cult classic.
During late 1983, EWF issued their thirteenth studio album, entitled Electric Universe. With the album came a unique fully new wave and synth pop sound for EWF. The album got to Nos. 8 & 40 on the Top R&B Albums and Billboard 200 charts respectively.
Rolling Stone described Electric Universe as being full of «sensuous, and at times, rock oriented dance material». Cashbox also noted on the album «soulful ballads» and upbeat funk-a-ramas» with «an undeniable futuristic influence in many of the songs pronouncing the effects of the space/computer age».
Off the album the single «Magnetic» rose to Nos. 10 & 36 on the Hot R&B Songs and Dance Club Songs charts respectively. Another single entitled «Touch» got to No. 23 on the Hot R&B Songs chart.
With the release of this LP Maurice believed the band needed a break, so he put EWF on hiatus in 1984.
During their hiatus Maurice went on to produce Barbra Streisand on her 1984 album Emotion. Emotion has been certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA. He later produced Neil Diamond on his 1986 Gold album Headed for the Future. White released the self-titled solo album Maurice White in 1985. The album rose to number 12 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. Appearing upon the LP was a cover of Ben E. King’s «Stand by Me», with a guest appearance by jazz saxophonist Gerald Albright. White’s version of «Stand by Me» got to numbers 6 and 11 on the Billboard Hot R&B Singles and Adult Contemporary Songs charts respectively. Another album cut «I Need You» rose to numbers 20 and 30 upon the Billboard Adult Contemporary Songs and Hot R&B Singles charts, respectively. He also worked with guitarist Lee Ritenour on his 1986 Grammy-nominated album Earth Run and Cher on her 1987 Platinum album Cher.
Philip Bailey also issued his second solo album, Chinese Wall, in 1984 on Columbia. The album was certified Gold in the US by the RIAA. A single off the LP with Phil Collins called «Easy Lover,» rose to No. 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number 1 on the UK Singles Chart respectively. He went on to appear on Kenny Loggins 1985 album Vox Humana. Bailey went on to release his third studio album being Inside Out in 1986 on Columbia. He later featured on Ray Parker Jr.’s 1987 LP After Dark.
Ralph Johnson also produced The Temptations on their 1984 album Truly for You. Verdine White went on to promote go-go bands like Trouble Funk and E.U. The compilation album The Collection was released May 1986, stayed at number 5 on the UK singles charts for two weeks, and was certified Gold in the UK by the British Phonographic Industry.
During 1987 Maurice went about reconvening the band. As a result Verdine White, Ralph Johnson, Philip Bailey and Andrew Woolfolk returned with new members guitarist/vocalist Sheldon Reynolds and drummer Sonny Emory. A new horn section dubbed the Earth, Wind & Fire Horns was created, made up of Gary Bias on the saxophone, Raymond Lee Brown on the trumpet, and Reggie Young on the flugelhorn and trombone.
With this came the studio album Touch the World which was issued in November 1987. Touch the World rose to Nos. 3 & 33 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and Billboard 200 charts respectively. The album was nominated for a Soul Train Award in the category of Best R&B/Soul Album of the Year. Touch the World was also certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On the album was a track written by an unknown songwriter by the name of Skylark entitled «System of Survival». Released as a single, the song became a hit, going to number one on the Billboard R&B charts and Dance charts. «System of Survival» was nominated for a Soul Train Award in the category of Best R&B/Soul Single – Group, Band or Duo. Another single titled «Thinking of You» got to Nos. 1 & 3 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts respectively.
During November 1988, EWF issued a compilation album entitled The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 2. The album was certified Gold in the US by the RIAA. With the LP came a previously unreleased song entitled «Turn on (The Beat Box)», which was released as a single and reached number 26 on the Hot Black Singles chart.
EWF went on to be nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the category of Best Vocal Group.
In 1990 EWF issued their fifteenth studio album, entitled Heritage. People magazine described it as an album «with a full dose of energy and creativity». Spin noted «bright, cheery harmonies set in crisp call and response patterns laced together with dreamy musical interludes» on the album.
The album rose to number 19 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. The album’s title track, featuring The Boys, got to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Another single, «For the Love of You» featuring MC Hammer, rose to No. 19 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
During 1992, EWF issued an album called The Eternal Dance. The LP was the band’s first ever boxset.
After 21 years EWF signed once again with Warner Bros. Following this came the release in September 1993 of their 16th studio album, Millennium. The album rose to Nos. 8 & 39 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and Billboard 200 chart respectively.
Vibe described the LP as being full of «r&b on the visonary/romantic tip.» The Boston Globe also declared Millennium as an album of «funk/r&b roots» together with «Minneapolis funk» Millennium was nominated for a Soul Train Music Award in the category of Best R&B/Soul Album – Group, Band or Duo. The album’s first single «Sunday Morning» earned the band a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. The song got to Nos. 20 & 33 on the Billboard Hot R&B Songs and Canadian Top Singles charts respectively. The second single entitled «Spend The Night» rose to No. 36 on the Billboard Adult R&B Songs chart.
On July 30, 1993 former Phenix Horns saxophonist Don Myrick was fatally shot by a Santa Monica Police Department officer. On October 13, former lead vocalist Wade Flemons died from cancer in Battle Creek, Michigan.
In November 1993, EWF performed at the American Music Awards 20th anniversary special.
During 1994, EWF was inducted into the NAACP Image Award Hall Of Fame.
On September 14 of the following year, the band received another tribute in the form of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Maurice White, Sonny Emory, Sheldon Reynolds, Philip Bailey, Ralph Johnson, Andrew Woolfolk and Verdine White all attended the inauguration ceremony where they were bestowed with the honor before hundreds of fans.
1996–present: Neo period
During 1996 Maurice launched a new label entitled Kalimba Records based in Santa Monica, California. At the label also came a recording studio known as Magnet Vision.
EWF’s follow up studio album, In the Name of Love, was released in 1997 on Rhino Records. The album went on to be noted as one with a digitized neo soul sound and style. USA Today noted that EWF «shows it still has an edge to its funk» on the LP. The Guardian also described In the Name of Love as «a scorching album». The LP reached No. 19 on the UK R&B Albums chart. Off the album a track entitled «When Love Goes Wrong» got to No. 33 on the Billboard Adult R&B Songs chart. Another song called «Change Your Mind» was issued as a single in 2006 by Kalimba. Change Your Mind rose to No. 26 on the Billboard Adult R&B Songs chart.
During the previous year, Maurice stopped regularly touring with the band but still appeared on stage occasionally. At the time, he explained that he wanted to take a rest from the rigors of the road. Philip Bailey was given the role of an on stage leader of the band. Maurice though maintained executive control of EWF as its main leader.
Earth, Wind & Fire went on to appear on Wu Tang Clan offshoot Sunz of Man’s 1998 debut album The Last Shall Be First. The album got to Nos. 20 & 7 on the Billboard 200 and Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts respectively. EWF then gave an encore performance at the 1998 Montreux Jazz Festival as the band also played at the 1997 edition of the festival.
During 1999 EWF went on to issue an album entitled The Ultimate Collection on Columbia. The album reached No. 34 upon the UK Albums Chart. A remix by UK dance duo Phats and Small called «September ’99» got to Nos. 1 & 25 on the Canadian Dance Songs and UK Singles charts respectively.
In 1999, the group also performed on the A&E Network show Live by Request. A website entitled www.Startalk.org was set up in 1999 in honor of Maurice. Maurice later spoke of an mild affliction with Parkinson’s disease. Artists such as Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Boyz II Men, Smokey Robinson, Isaac Hayes, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine posted messages on the site for White. Maurice, however, had the disease under control, so much so that he occasionally made appearances at EWF performances, and continued to write, record, produce and develop new recordings for EWF and other artists.
On March 6, 2000, EWF was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by hip hop artist Lil’ Kim to a standing ovation during the 15th annual ceremony held at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Maurice White, Philip Bailey, Verdine White, and Ralph Johnson, as well as former EWF members Al McKay, Larry Dunn, Andrew Woolfolk, Fred White and Johnny Graham attended the ceremony. At the gala they performed «Shining Star» and «That’s the Way of the World» together.
EWF was a specially invited music guest at the June 20, 2000 White House state dinner hosted by President Bill Clinton on the South Lawn of the White House, in honor of His Majesty Mohammed VI, King of Morocco, and Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Meryem. So impressed was the king by the band’s performance that he made a personal request for EWF to perform in Morocco for his 37th birthday celebration on August 21, 2000.
EWF went on to collaborate with Wyclef Jean on his second studio album, The Ecleftic: 2 Sides II a Book, which was issued in August 2000. The album got to Nos. 3 & 9 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and Billboard 200 charts respectively. The album was certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
In 2001, a biographical documentary of the band entitled Shining Stars: The Official Story Of Earth, Wind & Fire was released, directed by Kathryn Arnold. Following the September 11 attacks of that year, the band members donated $25,000 to the American Red Cross at a September 13 show at Virginia’s Verizon Wireless Virginia Beach Amphitheater, the band’s first concert since those events took place. February 24, 2002 saw EWF performing at the closing ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City, Utah.
During June 2002 EWF was bestowed with the ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Heritage Award at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. The award was presented by ASCAP President and Chairman Marilyn Bergman, Stevie Wonder, and Jimmy Jam.
Within July 2002 a compilation album entitled The Essential Earth, Wind & Fire was issued by Columbia. The album has been certified Gold in the US by the RIAA. Off the album came a sampler which featured remixes of Can’t Hide Love and Let’s Groove. The remix sampler got to No. 4 on the UK Dance Singles Chart.
A live album of the band’s 1980 performance in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, entitled Live In Rio, was released on Maurice White’s Kalimba Records label in November 2002.
During May 2003 EWF issued The Promise on Kalimba Records. The album peaked at No. 19 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 5 on the Billboard Top Independent Albums chart. People magazine described the LP as «musically rich». Blender magazine also called the album «a classy collection». On the album were two previously unreleased songs from the I Am recording sessions: «Where Do We Go From Here» and «Dirty».The first single «All in the Way», which reunited EWF with The Emotions, got to Nos. 13 & 25 on the Billboard Adult R&B Songs and Adult Contemporary Songs charts respectively. The second single «Hold Me» earned the band a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance. Hold Me also reached No. 28 on the Billboard Adult R&B Songs chart. Reissued as singles in 2014 and 2015 respectively, the tracks «Never» and «Why?» rose to Nos. 17 & 19 on the Billboard Smooth Jazz Songs chart respectively.
On July 7, 2003 the band was inducted into Hollywood’s Rockwalk. In September 2003 EWF were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.
On February 8, 2004, EWF performed in a tribute to funk at the 46th annual Grammy Awards held at the Staples Center, Los Angeles, California. Other artists performing at this tribute were Parliament Funkadelic, OutKast, and Robert Randolph and the Family Band. EWF sang «Shining Star» and then at Outkast’s request crooned «The Way You Move» with them. Robert Randolph and the Family Band performed their single «I Need More Love» and then all of the bands teamed to sing Parliament Funkadelic’s classic «Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)». EWF also covered Jimi Hendrix’s «Voodoo Child (Slight Return)» on his May 2004 tribute album Power of Soul: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix.
On June 8, 2004 EWF were bestowed with the NARAS Signature Governors Award at Los Angeles’s Beverly Hills Hotel. On September 27, 2004, former Phenix Horns trombonist Louis Satterfield died, aged 67.
In November 2004 EWF and saxophonist Kenny G issued a cover of Outkast’s «The Way You Move» on Arista Records. The single got to No. 12 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary singles chart. On December 11, 2004, EWF was honored at the first annual Grammy Jam held at Los Angeles’s Wiltern Theater. At the Grammy Jam artists such as Stevie Wonder, Yolanda Adams, India Arie, George Benson, Sheila E., Kanye West, George Duke, Usher and Jill Scott paid tribute to the band in the form of performances. Celebrities such as Pamela Anderson, Tim Allen, Prince, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Nick Cannon, Regina King, Suzanne de Passe and Victoria Rowell also attended the gala. EWF performed on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve on December 31, 2004.
The February 6, 2005, Super Bowl XXXIX pregame show in Jacksonville, Florida saw the band teaming with The Black Eyed Peas to sing «Where Is the Love?» and «Shining Star».
In 2004, EWF and Chicago embarked upon a joint national tour, which gave rise to a DVD of a concert that took place at Los Angeles’ Greek Theater entitled Chicago & Earth, Wind & Fire – Live at the Greek Theatre. This DVD was released on June 28, 2005, and was certified Platinum two months afterward. Chicago and EWF once again toured together in 2005 and collaborated for a new recording of Chicago’s ballad «If You Leave Me Now,» that was included on Chicago’s 2005 compilation album Love Songs. As part of an opening act for the 57th Primetime Emmy Awards held on September 18, 2005, at Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium, the band once more collaborated with The Black Eyed Peas. This was first time a musical artist had opened at the annual awards show.
EWF released a single entitled «Show Me The Way», on which they paired with neo soul artist Raphael Saadiq on Sanctuary Records in the fall of 2005. The single garnered a Grammy nomination and was featured on Illumination, their 19th studio album, which was released on September 20, 2005. For this album EWF collaborated with artists such as will.i.am, Kelly Rowland, Outkast’s Big Boi, and Brian McKnight. Illumination reached number eight on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Album Chart and number 32 on the Billboard Hot 100. Another single spawned from the album, dubbed «Pure Gold», reached number 23 on the Adult Contemporary Charts.
Raymond Fiore of Entertainment Weekly described the LP as a mix of «modern beats and retro, horn-lined soul». Steve Jones of USA Today noted that on the album EWF are as «vibrant as ever». Illumination received a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album and a Soul Train Music Award in the category R&B-soul album. EWF also received a NAACP Image Award nomination for Best Duo or Group.
In 2006, Maurice worked with Maurice Hines, brother of famed entertainer Gregory Hines, to release the Broadway play Hot Feet. This was a jukebox musical with its theme the music of Earth, Wind & Fire. Maurice co-wrote with Allee Willis several new songs for the play. On February 11, 2007 EWF performed «Runaway Love» alongside Mary J. Blige and Ludacris at the 49th Grammy Awards held at Los Angeles’s Staples Center.
Interpretations: Celebrating the Music of Earth, Wind & Fire, an album featuring cover versions of EWF’s material, was released on Stax Records on March 27, 2007. Executive produced by Maurice, the LP featured artists such as Chaka Khan, Kirk Franklin, Lalah Hathaway, Mint Condition, Dwele, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Angie Stone. The album rose to no. 28 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. Dwele and Meshell Ndegeocello’s renditions of «That’s the Way of the World» and «Fantasy», respectively, were each Grammy-nominated for the Best Urban/Alternative Performance.
The band was the opening act at a special edition of American Idol entitled «Idol Gives Back» (which aired April 25, 2007) and performed a medley of «Boogie Wonderland», «Shining Star» and «September». At the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway, on December 11, 2007, EWF performed Fantasy and September. The concert was broadcast to over 100 countries. Artists such as Melissa Etheridge, Alicia Keys, Annie Lennox, and Kylie Minogue also performed at the concert.
During February 2008 EWF performed on the opening night of one of the oldest and largest musical festivals in Latin America, Chile’s Viña del Mar Festival. The audience at the gala was so impressed by EWF’s performance that the band was bestowed with the Gaviota de Plata (The Silver Seagull), which is the highest award that can be presented to an artist performing at the festival. EWF’s song «In the Stone» has also been used for several years as the introductory theme for the festival’s broadcasts.
On March 10, 2008 the band was inducted into the Munich Olympic Walk Of Stars.
Maurice White, Ralph Johnson, Philip Bailey, and Verdine White each received an honorary degree from the Arts and Media College at Columbia College Chicago’s 2008 commencement exercises. During the ceremony Verdine White and Johnson both gave acceptance speeches before all four honorees gave an impromptu performance of «Shining Star». EWF performed at the opening ceremony of the 2008 US Open, which was hosted by Forest Whitaker and served to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the founding of tennis’s Open Era with a parade of more than 25 former US Open singles champions.
EWF performed at the White House on February 22, 2009, for the Governors’ Dinner; they were the first musical artists to perform there since Barack Obama took office. The band toured once more with Chicago in 2009 for a tour of 30 US cities. On April 26, 2009, EWF performed at the 39th New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Less than two weeks prior to this, former keyboard player Robert Brookins had died from a heart attack, aged 46.
In 2010, EWF performed at the 40th New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Within that same year, the band participated in the recording of the «We Are the World 25 for Haiti» single. 2010 was also the year that saw Maurice White, Phillip Bailey and Verdine White together with former EWF members Al McKay and Larry Dunn be inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
In November 2011, the band received the Legend Award at the Soul Train Awards at Atlanta, Georgia’s Fox Theatre. In 2012, EWF were bestowed with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 20th Annual Trumpet Awards, held at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in Atlanta.
On February 29, 2012, early guitarist Roland Bautista died, aged 60, of natural causes.
Earth Wind & Fire, along with former Pussycat Doll Melody Thornton and Charlie Wilson, guested on the LL Cool J track «Something About You». The song went on to appear on his 2013 album Authentic.
Now, Then & Forever, the group’s first album in eight years, was released on September 10, 2013.
On January 13, 2014, former percussionist Beloyd Taylor, who co-wrote the band’s 1976 hit «Getaway», died. Just a few months later, on May 2, former vocalist Jessica Cleaves died at the age of 65 following complications from a stroke.
On September 13, 2014, EWF performed at Proms in the Park at Hyde Park with the BBC Concert Orchestra. On October 21, 2014, EWF released their first ever holiday album, entitled Holiday. On December 8, 2014, EWF performed at the Kennedy Center Honors, honoring Al Green. On December 14, 2014, the band performed at the Christmas in Washington event. In July 2019, the band was selected as a Kennedy Center honoree.
Maurice White died on February 4, 2016, after suffering for some years with Parkinson’s disease. He was survived by his wife, his two sons, daughter and his brothers Verdine and Fred.
Earth, Wind & Fire’s songs have been covered by artists including Whitney Houston, D’Angelo, Donny Osmond, Patti LaBelle, Taylor Swift, Olly Murs and Kirk Franklin. They have also been covered by Wynonna Judd, Yolanda Adams, Ledisi, Chicago, Chaka Khan and 112.
EWF has been sampled by artists such as Drake, A Tribe Called Quest, Missy Elliott, Public Enemy, Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, the Fugees, LL Cool J, Kid Ink, Salt-n-Pepa and Basement Jaxx. The band has also been sampled by the likes of Björk, Diddy, The Roots, Will Smith, Nas, TLC, Common, Lupe Fiasco, Big Sean, Tupac Shakur and MC Lyte.
EWF has influenced artists such as Beyoncé, Usher, will.i.am, Janelle Monáe, Mary J. Blige, Prince, Pharrell Williams, India.Arie, Jon Secada, and Wyclef Jean. They have also been influential to artists like Angie Stone, Patrice Rushen, The All-American Rejects, Nelly Teena Marie, Musiq Soulchild, Solange Knowles, Babyface, Taylor Dayne, Will Gregory of Goldfrapp, OutKast, and Gloria Estefan.
Artists such as Jamiroquai, Pitbull, Lenny Kravitz, Vanessa Williams, Joe Jonas of the Jonas Brothers,[ Justice Omarion, Rob Bourdon of Linkin Park, Jill Scott, and Justin Timberlake have also been influenced by EWF. The band has influenced artists such as Bonnie Raitt, Erykah Badu, Jamie Foxx, Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy, Lalah Hathaway, Amy Winehouse, and Meghan Trainor.
Miles Davis described EWF as his «all time favorite band», saying, «they have everything (horns, electric guitar, singers and more) in one band». Quincy Jones has proclaimed himself to be the «biggest fan of Earth, Wind & Fire since day one.» Alicia Keys has proclaimed EWF as being «the best band ever». Dionne Warwick has named Earth, Wind & Fire as her favorite group of all time. David Foster mentioned Earth, Wind & Fire as his favorite band of all time on the show Hit Man Returns: David Foster and friends (2011). In this concert he showed his respect to Maurice White publicly.
In the movie BAADASSSSS!, the actor Khalil Kain portrayed a young Maurice White leading the early incarnation of Earth, Wind & Fire. Released at the Sundance Film Festival, the film was based on Melvin Van Peebles’ struggle to film and distribute the movie Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and was directed by his son Mario Van Peebles.
•Philip Bailey – lead vocals, percussion (1972–1984; 1987–present)
•Verdine White – bass guitar, backing vocals (1970–1984; 1987–present)
•Ralph Johnson – percussion, backing vocals (1972–1984; 1987–present); drums (1972–1984)
•B. David Whitworth – percussion, vocals (1996–present)
•Myron McKinley – keyboards, musical director (2001–present)
•John Paris – drums, vocals (2001–present)
•Philip Bailey, Jr. – vocals, percussion (2008–present)
•Morris O’Connor – lead guitar, vocals (2008–present)
•Serg Dimitrijevic – rhythm guitar, vocals (2012–present)