Earth Wind & Fire PhotoFORMED: 1969, Chicago, IL

Earth, Wind & Fire was the most successful R&B group of the second half of the '70s. EW&F was founded by Maurice White (b.Dec 19, 1942) and his brother Verdine (b.Jul 25, 1951) in Chicago in 1969, and they released their self-titled debut album on Warner Brothers in 1970. After the 1971 release of the second album, The Need of Love, White reorganized the group, bringing in Philip Bailey (b.May 8, 1951) as co-lead singer for the recording of the third album, Last Days and Time on Columbia.

EW&F encapsulated many strains of Black pop from before their time. Their high-pitched harmony vocals called to mind groups such as the Temptations, while their funkiness was reminiscent of Sly and the Family Stone, and their horn section sometimes evoked the work of James Brown and others. Over this, Maurice White laid his own brand of African-inspired kalimba music for a thorough synthesis that nonetheless bore a particular musical stamp unique to Earth, Wind & Fire.

The band began to break through with its fourth album, Head to the Sky, in 1973. EW&F's first R&B Top Ten hit was "Mighty Mighty," from their first gold album, Open Your Eyes, which went to #15 in the pop charts and also contained the R&B hit "Kalimba Story." EW&F's breakthrough to a mass audience, however, came in 1975 with the release of That's the Way of the World, the soundtrack to a film in which the group appeared. Led by its gold-selling #1 single, "Shining Star," the album topped the pop charts.

Equally successful were the partially live Gratitude (1975), Spirit (1976), All 'n All (1977), The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire - Vol. 1 (1978), and I Am (1979). Several albums in the early '80s did almost as well, but after the relative failure of Electric Universe in 1983, EW&F disbanded. It re-formed for the 1987 release Touch the World.

Earth, Wind & Fire returned to the R&B/urban universe in 1990 with the LP Heritage, an attempt to update their sound with hip-hop and New Jack ingredients. Hammer and the Boys, as well as old school veteran Sly Stone, made guest appearances, but couldn't rekindle the old magic. They tried again in '93 with Millennium, switching labels to Reprise and ending a relationship with Columbia dating back to 1972. Columbia issued a deluxe boxed set of their greatest hits in 1992, The Eternal Dance. Bailey and the White brothers returned once again in 1997 on the small Pyramid label with In the Name of Love. ~ William Ruhlmann and Ron Wynn, All Music Guide