Thursday, September 24, 2009

Earth, Wind & Fire: Musical Messengers on a Mission

Earth, Wind & Fire
Earth, Wind & Fire were a band to be reckoned with throughout the 1970s and early ‘80s. Led by Maurice White, former session drummer for Chess Records and player for The Ramsey Lewis Trio, EWF took the music world by storm with a slew of R&B and pop hits and dazzling concerts.

One of the things that set Earth, Wind & Fire apart from a lot of other popular R&B bands at the time was the cosmic, mystical air they had about them. They came across as musical sages with an important message to share with the world. Indeed, EWF were a band on a mission, and their quest was to spread positivity and inspire their listeners. They took on the role of spiritual cheerleaders for their audience, preaching self-reliance, self-awareness and self-improvement. EWF tried to instill in their listeners that they could achieve anything if they set their minds to it. And for some reason, all this felt genuine and not just a good marketing gimmick.

But in order to get people to listen to your message, you’ve got have something to grab their attention first, and EWF were more than up for the challenge. White assembled a group of the baddest players this side of P-Funk. The band included bass virtuoso Verdine White (Maurice’s brother) and singer/songwriter/percussionist Philip Bailey, who possesses a four-octave vocal range and a beautiful falsetto that would make Smokey Robinson envious. Rounding out the line-up were the super-tight Phenix Horns (Don Myrick saxophones, Louis "Lui Lui" Satterfield trombone, Rahmlee Michael Davis trumpet and Michael Harris trumpet); keyboard wizard Larry Dunn; talented axe men Al McKay, Roland Bautista and Johnny Graham; and dynamic drummers Ralph Johnson and Fred White (brother to Maurice and Verdine).

And then there’s Maurice White, founder and leader of EWF. As the band's guiding light, White wore many hats: songwriter, drummer, producer, arranger, timbales and kalimba player, and vocalist. And he handled all these duties with equal brilliance. In addition, White was a great showman who knew how to take control onstage and immediately connect with the audience.

Earth, Wind & Fire's music moved listeners of all ages, races and nationalities. The band’s sound was as multicolored as their costumes--a rich stew of funk, jazz, Latin, rock, African, pop, gospel and soul. They could jump from roof-raising funk to catchy pop to intricate jazz to gorgeous ballads and do it all well. The band was on a winning streak in the ‘70s, dropping hit after hit, including “Mighty Mighty,” “Shining Star,” “Can't Hide Love,” “Reasons,” “Boogie Wonderland,” and “Fantasy.” And they were not just a great singles’ band but also had strong cohesive albums, such as That's the Way of the World, All ‘N All and Gratitude. Moreover, the band has sold more than 90 million albums worldwide and won six Grammys.

And their concerts were captivating displays of impeccable musicianship combined with great showmanship and elaborate stage sets—sort of like Miles Davis meets P.T. Barnum. They even hired magicians Doug Henning and David Copperfield to make their shows even more spectacular.

During the ‘70s and early ‘80s, EWF earned their spot as one greatest bands of all time, even having some critics dub them “The Black Beatles.” But EWF didn’t need to be compared to any band, because they were amazing and unique in their own right. No one will ever forget the mighty Earth, Wind & Fire as they left an indelible mark on popular music.

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