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Pop/R&B music group, founded in Chicago in 1969 by Maurice White (b. Dec. 19, 1942) and his brother Verdine (b. Jul. 25, 1951). Maurice had been a drummer for jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis’s quartet and Verdine was a classically trained bassist. Their goal was to form a band that blended soul, funk, gospel, blues, rock, and jazz. They released a self-titled debut album for Warner Brothers in 1970 and followed it up the next year with the album The Need of Love. Philip Bailey (b. May 8, 1951) was brought on as a co-lead singer and Ralph Johnson as a drummer-percussionist-vocalist for the album Last Days and Time for Columbia. In 1973 Earth Wind & Fire scored their first gold record with Head to the Sky and their first R&B Top Ten hit with “Mighty Mighty” from Open Your Eyes. The group’s breakthrough to a mass audience came in 1975 with the release of the album That’s the Way of the World, which was the soundtrack to a film in which the group appeared. It featured the No. 1 hit single “Shining Star.” In 1975 the band released the partially live album Gratitude. During the recording of 1976’s Spirit, longtime producer, arranger and songwriter Charles Stepney passed away. In 1977 Earth Wind & Fire released the album All ‘n All and won three Grammy Awards, one one of which was for their version of the Beatles “Got to Get You Into My Life.” 1979’s I Am featured the popular disco single “Boogie Wonderland” and the hit ballad “After the Love Has Gone.” Several albums in the early 1980s did almost as well, but after the commercial failure of 1983’s “Electric Universe,” the group disbanded. It re-formed for the 1987 release Touch the World. The1990s saw the release of the albums Heritage, Millenium, and In the Name of Love. Known for their spectacular stage shows, Earth Wind & Fire helped to bring African influences into American pop culture. One of Maurice White’s trademarks was a handheld African thumb piano called a kalimba, which was used in many of their recordings.
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