Earth, Wind & Fire

Article Index

Electronic period (1981–1990)

White decided that, given the changing musical landscape, the band needed to incorporate into their work more of the digital sound which was popular at the time. As a result, EWF's eleventh album titled Raise! - was influenced with this new electronic sound and released in the fall of 1981 - sold over a million copies in the US and was certified Platinum by the RIAA. Raise! featured the hit single "Let's Groove", which also went Platinum, and another single "Wanna Be With You", which won EWF a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group. Earth, Wind & Fire appeared at American Bandstand's 30th Anniversary Special, where they performed "Let's Groove" on October 30, 1981.[43]


Two years after the release of Raise! came Powerlight, which included the singles "Fall In Love With Me", a number 17 pop hit, and "Side By Side". "Powerlight" went Gold. Also in 1983, the song "Dance, Dance, Dance" was contributed to the soundtrack of the animated film Rock & Rule. After the fully synthesized album Electric Universe was released in late 1983 to a poor critical and commercial reception, Maurice believed the band needed a break so he put EWF on hiatus.

During their hiatus, Philip Bailey released his second and most commercially successful solo project, the Gold album Chinese Wall, featuring the Phenix Horns and produced by Phil Collins. The first single from that album, a duet with Collins called "Easy Lover", sold over a million copies, rose to number 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number 1 on the UK Singles Chart respectively, and was Grammy-nominated for Best Pop Vocal Performance By A Duo or Group. The music video of Bailey and Collins rehearsing their collaboration went to the top of MTV's video playlist and won an MTV Video Music Award for Best Overall Performance in 1985. Bailey released four gospel albums in this period, and one of them, titled Triumph, won him a Grammy Award for Best Gospel Vocal Performance, Male.

Maurice White, during this time, produced for Barbra Streisand on her Platinum album Emotion and worked with Neil Diamond on his Gold album Headed for the Future and Cher on her 1987 Platinum album Cher. He also released the self-titled solo album Maurice White in 1985, which included a cover of "Stand by Me" that went to number six on the R&B charts and number eleven on the Adult Contemporary charts. The album also featured an appearance by saxophonist Gerald Albright. Also, during the hiatus, Verdine White worked behind the scenes, writing and directing videos. He produced Standing in the Light, by the English pop rock and jazz-funk band Level 42, with Larry Dunn, and promoted go-go bands like Trouble Funk and E.U.[1]

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.

Phil Collins saw EWF on one of their European tours and became a fan of the band. He came in contact with the Phenix Horns and they eventually worked with his band Genesis on songs including "No Reply At All" and "Paperlate", and with him on such solo hits as "I Missed Again" and "Sussudio".

In 1987, CBS Records convinced both Philip Bailey and Maurice White that a reunion of Earth, Wind & Fire would be fruitful. As a result, original members Verdine White, Ralph Johnson and Andrew Woolfolk returned to the band with new members guitarist/vocalist Sheldon Reynolds, lead guitarist Dick Smith, and drummer Sonny Emory. A new horn section dubbed the Earth, Wind & Fire Horns was also created, made up of Gary Bias on the saxophone, Raymond Lee Brown on the trumpet, and Reggie Young on the flugelhorn and trombone.

The band's reformation fostered the 1987 Gold album Touch the World, which was nominated for a Soul Train Award in the category of Best R&B/Soul Album of the Year and rose to number three on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and number 33 on The Billboard 200.[44] Featured on the album was a song penned by an unknown songwriter by the name of Skylark, titled "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. Another single titled "Thinking Of You" peaked at number one and number three on the R&B and Dance charts as well. In 1988, the band released the compilation album The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 2, which went Gold in the US. The group's final album released by Columbia Records was 1990's Heritage, which featured a collaboration with Sly Stone of Sly & the Family Stone. In 1992, the band released a 55-track anthology of their career up to that point entitled The Eternal Dance.

Neo classic period (1993–present)

EWF signed once again with Warner Bros. and following this came the release in 1993 of their 16th studio album, Millennium. Included on this album was the single "Sunday Morning", which earned the band a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group, the billboard top 40 charting single, written by Dawn Thomas( aka Constant Change), "Spend The Night", and a track written by Prince called "Super Hero". Tragedy unfortunately befell the band in 1993; on July 30 former Phoenix Horns saxophonist Don Myrick was fatally shot by the Los Angeles Police Department in a case of mistaken identity.[45] Then on October 13, former lead vocalist Wade Flemons died from cancer in Battle Creek, Michigan.[46] In 1994, Earth, Wind & Fire were inducted into the NAACP Hall Of Fame.

The band received another tribute in the following year in the form of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[47] All the original members of the group attended the inauguration ceremony, and in his speech Maurice White attributed EWF's success to the support of all of their fans. In 1994 Maurice White decided to retire from touring with the band. 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 onstage leader of the band.

The studio album In the Name of Love was released on Pyramid Records in 1997 to a favorable critical reception. EWF performed at the 1997 Montreux Jazz Festival and gave an encore performance the following year. In 2004, a DVD of their 1997 performance was released, entitled Earth, Wind & Fire: Live At Montreux 1997. In 1999, the group performed on the A&E Network show Live by Request,[48] and in that same year Maurice announced that the real reason for his ending his touring days in 1995 was because he had contracted Parkinson's disease in the late 1980s, which made it increasingly difficult for him over the years to handle comfortably the rigors of touring. A website entitled www.Startalk.org was set up in 1999 to offer Maurice support with his health struggles and on it, messages of encouragement from celebrities 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 were published.[49] Maurice, however, had the disease under control, so much so that he occasionally made appearances at Earth, Wind & Fire performances, and continued to write, record, produce and develop new recordings for Earth, Wind & Fire and other artists.

On March 6, 2000, Earth, Wind & Fire was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to a standing ovation during the 15th annual induction dinner held at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. All of the band's original members from the 1973—80 "classic period", namely Maurice White, Philip Bailey, Verdine White, Ralph Johnson, Al McKay, Larry Dunn, Andrew Woofolk, Fred White and Johnny Graham, attended the ceremony, at which the nine of them played together for the first time in 20 years, performing "Shining Star" and "That's The Way Of the World". After their induction into the Hall of Fame an effort was made by the original band members to fully reunite, but it ultimately proved unfruitful.[50][51]

Earth, Wind & Fire were the specially invited music guests 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.[47][52] So impressed was the King by the band's performance that he made a successful personal request for EWF to perform in Morocco for his 37th birthday celebration, on August 21, 2000.[53]

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.[54] February 24, 2002 saw Earth, Wind & Fire performing at the closing ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City, Utah.[55]

A live album from the band's 1980 performance in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, entitled Live In Rio, was released on Maurice White's Kalimba Records label in 2002, and that same year EWF was honored with the Rhythm & Soul Heritage Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. The award was presented to EWF by ASCAP President and Chairman Marilyn Bergman, Stevie Wonder, and Jimmy Jam.[56] In addition, the band was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and Hollywood's RockWalk in 2003.[57]

In 2003, Kalimba Records released The Promise – the band's first studio album in six years.[58][59] The Promise rose to number 19 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts and received critical acclaim upon its release, with People Magazine and Blender Magazine describing the album as "musically rich" and "a classy collection", respectively. The track "Hold Me" produced and written by Tim & Bob, was Grammy-nominated for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance. The album spawned a kalimba-laden track reminiscent of the classic EW&F sound, titled "All in the Way", which reunited EWF with The Emotions. Featured on the album were two previously unreleased songs from the "I Am" recording sessions: "Where Do We Go From Here" and "Dirty".

On February 8, 2004, Earth, Wind & Fire 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 up to sing Parliament Funkadelic's classic "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)".[36][60] Earth, Wind & Fire contributed to the Jimi Hendrix tribute album Power of Soul: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix, released in May 4, 2004, with their cover of "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)".