1969 (Chicago, IL)
R&B, Funk, Disco, Jazz
Claims to fame:
Earth, Wind & Fire was the brainchild of Maurice White, a veteran session drummer who had, among other things, performed on Fontella Bass" 1966 hit "Rescue Me." After his original Chicago band, the Salty Peppers, flopped, White moved to Los Angeles and assembled a jazz-fusion big band, which became EWF. After two extensive revamps, a label change to Warner Bros., and several lineup changes, EWF finally scored its first hits in 1973 with "Evil" and "Keep Your Head to the Sky." White"s "Kalimba Story" soon became a Top Ten R&B hit, and "Mighty Mighty" followed; their fanbase grew exponentially due to constant touring.
Having already performed a "blaxploitation" soundtrack with 1971"s Sweet Sweetback"s Baadasssss Song, EWF were called on when that movie"s producer, Sig Shore, decided to make a film about exploitation in the music business, starring Harvey Keitel. That film, That"s The Way of the World, would be the group"s breakthrough to the mainstream, with the title track and "Shining Star" becoming huge hits for the band.
The band became a major concert draw, not only for their virtuoso performances but an elaborate stage show featuring African-themed props and pyrotechnics designed to highlight the group"s spiritual leanings.
The group remained huge throughout the decade, adopting disco and electro funk into its repertoire in order to stay current.
But the scaling-back of the music business, along with the rise of hip-hop, brought an end to big jazz/R&B bands, even ones as accomplished as EWF. Philip Bailey went solo for a while, landing a hit duet with Phil Collins called "Easy Lover," and the band continued to be popular among older R&B fans. Earth, Wind and Fire still record today, mostly in a smooth-jazz mode, and Philip Bailey still leads the group on tour, though White has not toured with the group since 1995 for health reasons.
The classic Earth Wind & Fire lineup: