Earth, Wind and Fire – One of the biggest acts of the 1970s

Grammy Award-winning Earth, Wind and Fire are one of the most popular, commercially successful and influential bands in the 20thcentury, having produced hits singles, best-selling albums and an induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They reached the peak of their career during the 70s music era.

From their small beginnings, the band would rise to international fame and legendary status when their sixth studio LP That’s The Way Of The World topped the Billboard 200 album chart, which is indeed the first achievement done by any other African-American act. The album spawned the #1 pop and R&B single “Shining Star” in 1975.

They went on to release subsequent albums which became certified gold and platinum: Spirit, All ‘n All, I Am, Faces, Raise!, Powerlight, and Touch The World.They achieved a flurry of other Top 40 hits such as “Sing A Song”, “Can’t Hide Love”, “That’s The Way Of The World”, “Getaway”, “Saturday Nite”, “Serpentine Fire”, “Fantasy”, “Got To Get You Into My Life”, “September”, “Boogie Wonderland”, “After The Love Has Gone”, “Let’s Groove” and “Fall In Love With Me.” These songs have become oldies music and disco classics.

Formation of Earth, Wind and Fire

Their songs remain classics such as “Shining Star”, “Sing A Song”, “September”, “After The Love Has Gone”, “Boogie Wonderland”, and many others. The dynamic group are essentially an R&B/funk band but they dabbled in other genres such as disco, jazz, African, Latin, electronica and rock with aplomb. Because of their major commercial achievements as well as indelible contributions to 20th century music, the band has been awarded numerous nominations, awards including six Grammys and being included in the The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame.

Earth, Wind and Fire’s beginnings started in 1960s Chicago when leader Maurice White formed the original lineup that included his brother Verdine. They were first named as Salty Peppers whose first single “La La Time” became a regional hit. Maurice White moved out to the West Coast and added more members; he would then be followed by his brother Verdine there. After sending their demo tapes, the band secured a recording contract from Warner Bros. Records. With more members playing different instruments coming into the fold, the ten-strong Earth, Wind and Fire were on their way.

Their eponymous debut album was released in February 1971 to rave critical reviews. The band’s sound was much more raw, distinct from the style that they would become famous for. Maurice White was content to be on the background, playing drums and contributing backing vocals. The album went to #172 on the Billboard 200 album charts, while it peaked at #24 on the R&B album charts.

Encouraged by the warm reception, Earth, Wind and Fire followed this up with The Need Of Love later that same year. It was welcomed by wide critical acclaim just like their debut album. The single off The Need Of Love, “I Think About Lovin’ You”, was the group’s first charting single at #44 on the R&B singles chart.

Things were on track for the band but some of the members left to explore other musical opportunities, leaving only the White brothers. Maurice decided to re-form Earth, Wind and Fire with new musicians. They had to virtually start from scratch again.

Earth, Wind and Fire Band Members

Earth, Wind & Fire has had several members over the years. Here’s an overview of some of the key members:

Maurice White (Founder): A drummer, kalimba player, vocalist, and songwriter, Maurice was the heart of the band. He founded Earth, Wind & Fire in Chicago in 1969 and was the band’s main songwriter and producer.

Verdine White: Maurice’s younger brother, Verdine is a bassist who has been with the band since its formation. His energetic performance style and skill on the electric bass are integral to the band’s sound.

Philip Bailey: Joining in 1972, Bailey is known for his wide vocal range, including a distinctive falsetto. He became a co-lead singer alongside Maurice and played percussion.

Ralph Johnson: A drummer and percussionist who also joined in 1972, Johnson has been a steady presence in the band, contributing both to their percussion and vocal harmonies.

Al McKay: A guitarist and songwriter, McKay joined Earth, Wind & Fire in the early 1970s. He played a key role in some of the band’s most successful albums.

Larry Dunn: As the band’s keyboardist, Dunn joined in 1972 and was a key contributor to the band’s sound, especially in their fusion of jazz and R&B.

Johnny Graham: Joining in 1973, Graham added his skills as a guitarist, enhancing the band’s musical depth and range.

Fred White: Another of Maurice’s brothers, Fred played drums and joined the band in the mid-1970s, contributing to the rhythm section.

Andrew Woolfolk: A saxophonist and flutist who joined in 1973, Woolfolk added a jazz element to the band’s sound.

The band’s lineup has evolved over the years, but these members were pivotal in establishing and developing their distinctive sound.

On the Way to Better Things

With new members in tow, Earth, Wind and Fire released the 1973 album Head To The Sky which produced singles “Evil” (at #50 on the Hot 100; #25 on the R&B singles chart; #19 on the adult contemporary chart) and “Keep Your Head To The Sky” (#53 on the Hot 100, #23 on the R&B singles chart). It was re-issued 38 years later.

After the release of Head To The Sky, the band members began to leave once again. By the time the group formed again, Maurice White now assumed the new role as the group’s lead vocalist along with Philip Bailey whose falsetto proved perfect for White’s low baritone.

In 1974, the revamped group emerged with another album Open Our Eyes, which also saw the inclusion of Maurice and Verdine’s younger brother Fred, who was also an accomplished musician. The LP yielded two Top 40 singles “Mighty Mighty” and “Devotion”. This time, their fifth studio album performed much better, topping the R&B album chart and soaring high at #15 on the Billboard 200.

Attaining Big Commercial Success

Earth, Wind and Fire participated in the 1975 film That’s The Way of the World whose soundtrack was also recorded by the band. Finally, a major hit arrived for the combo — the funky number “Shining Star”. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B singles rankings, and sold over a million copies. It also earned a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Another single from the same album was the title track, which performed well at #12 on the Top 40.

That’s The Way Of The World was the combo’s breakthrough LP, registering at #1 on both Billboard 200 and R&B album charts — the first feat ever by any African-American act. Indeed, Earth Wiind and Fire rose to become shining stars in their own right.

Due to the massive commercial success of That’s The Way Of The World, the band now could afford to hire an extensive horn section — this element added to the band’s unique sound.

After their exhaustive worldwide tour, the band returned to making and recording songs — including “Can’t Hide Love” and “Sing A Song”, both of which (and other new studio tracks) would later appear on the double album Gratitude, which consists mostly of the band’s live gigs. Gratitude also topped the Billboard 200 and R&B album charts in 1975 — another momentous achievement for the band.

A New Decade for the Group

Earth, Wind and Fire’s subsequent studio albums continued to perform very successfully throughout the rest of the decade, most of them achieving platinum status: Spirit (1976), All n’ All (1977) and I Am (1979). The band didn’t make major changes for disco when the genre became popular, but the band’s single “Boogie Wonderland” (from I Am) was very disco-inspired. However, Verdine White maintained that his group was not a disco band, likening it to being at the party “but didn’t get on the dance floor”.

As the new decade approached, musical styles were inevitably shifting. At the moment electronica/digital music began to gain popularity. So Earth, Wind and Fire also needed to update their sound which resulted in the electronically-infused album Raise! in 1981. It had a strong showing on the charts (#3 on the Billboard 200 and #1 on the R&B album rankings) and achieved platinum status.

Two years later Earth, Wind and Fire released another album Powerlight which spawned its highest-charting single “Fall In Love With Me”, which peaked at #17 on the pop charts. Electric Universe did adequately on the charts (#40 on the Billboard 200, #8 on the R&B album rankings) but it fell short compared to its predecessors. The band also needed a well-deserved break, so Earth, Wind and Fire took a hiatus.

Hiatus and Several Individual Projects and Reformation

During Earth, Wind and Fire’s hiatus, each of the band members went on their solo projects. Four years later, the band got together again and paraded a lineup with some new musicians. The reformed group recorded and released Touch The World which was an R&B smash at #3. It featured a single “System Of Survival”, which was credited to a mysterious composer going by the name of Skylark (we will apparently never know who it is for sure). “System Of Survival” topped the R&B and dance charts, while it reached at #55 on the Hot 100. Touch The World achieved gold status.

Earth Wind and Fire One of the biggest acts of the 1970s

Earth, Wind and Fire: the Later Years and Legacy

Earth, Wind and Fire received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1995, and all original band members attended this momentous event. Leader Maurice White had announced his retirement from touring with the band; it was later found out that he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Nevertheless, he still holds executive control of the group and is very much active in recording and producing.  One of the most successful and critically acclaimed bands of the 20th century, has achieved numerous major accomplishments throughout their career. Here are some of their key achievements:

  1. Grammy Awards: The band has won six Grammy Awards from 17 nominations. Their wins include Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus for “Shining Star” (1976) and Best R&B Instrumental Performance for “Runnin'” (1978).
  2. Grammy Hall of Fame: Earth, Wind & Fire have several recordings inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, including “That’s the Way of the World” (2004), “Shining Star” (2007), and “September” (2008).
  3. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, recognizing their significant impact on the music industry.
  4. Hollywood Walk of Fame: The band has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, awarded in 1995, in recognition of their contributions to the music industry.
  5. Songwriters Hall of Fame: Maurice White, Philip Bailey, and Verdine White were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010.
  6. Kennedy Center Honors: Earth, Wind & Fire received Kennedy Center Honors in 2019, which are awarded to those in the performing arts for their lifetime contributions to American culture.
  7. Album Sales: They have sold over 90 million records worldwide, making them one of the world’s best-selling bands of all time.
  8. Influential Albums: Their album “That’s the Way of the World” was a critical and commercial success and its title track is one of their most popular songs. The album “Gratitude” (1975) and “All ‘n All” (1977) also received critical acclaim and commercial success.
  9. Innovative Sound and Style: Earth, Wind & Fire are known for their eclectic blend of musical genres, including R&B, soul, funk, jazz, disco, pop, rock, and African music. This innovative fusion has influenced countless artists and bands.
  10. Memorable Performances: Known for their energetic and elaborate stage shows, the band’s live performances have been a significant part of their legacy.

The band has also performed in some important functions such as the state dinner at the White House in 2000 (where they were invited as special musical guests), opening ceremony of the 2008 US Open, and Governor’s Dinner in 2009 to mark the administration of the newly-elected US President Barack Obama.

The band, with remaining active members, are still performing up to this day, now collaborating with today’s generation’s artists.

To date, Earth, Wind and Fire have sold 90 million albums, collected six Grammys, a couple of “hall of fame” inductions and other awards. The band’s innovative approach to music paved the way to their enduring commercial and critical success, making them as one of America’s greatest musical groups of all time.