When Earth, Wind & Fire settles in on the Brady stage this Friday night, May 20, it will be more than just another concert. As the band celebrates its 40th anniversary, the evening will serve as a tribute to the group's history and a chance to see true R&B legends.
Don't think that just because Earth, Wind & Fire hasn't found its way to the top of the pop charts doesn't mean the act hasn't been active. With 31 official album releases and a constant touring schedule, the group has become an icon of the soul and R&B genre in much the same way The Rolling Stones have become the elder statesmen of rock 'n' roll. More than just borrowing from other genres, however, Earth, Wind & Fire has made a career of melding influences and breaking new ground, combining jazz and R&B with rock, funk, blues and soul to influence multiple generations of new audiences.
The background lineup may have rotated over the years, but principal members Ralph Johnson, Philip Bailey and bassist Verdine White continue to lead the group in the true spirit of Earth, Wind & Fire. White's brother, Maurice, who initially founded the band and convinced his sibling to join as bassist. Maurice has since retired from touring but remains essential to the spirit of the band, guiding it as its primary composer and producer.
At its conception, Maurice had lofty aspirations for the group.
"I wanted to do something that hadn't been done before," he has been quoted as saying when explaining the band's broad appeal and approach to music. By blending genres, the group crossed not only genre boundaries, but also racial boundaries in the early and mid-'70s to become a true crossover pop act.
Still viewed by some as a predominantly R&B act, Earth, Wind & Fire has always transcended any particular genre. In the '70s, songs like "Boogie Wonderland," "Let's Groove" and "Saturday Night" may have been staples of the disco era, but classics like "Shining Star" and the band's reading of The Beatles' "Got to Get You into My Life" made the band just as important to pop and rock fans.
Now 40 years into its career, Earth, Wind & Fire continues to move forward, influencing new generations of artists and fans. Over the years, the group has garnered seven Grammy awards and landed two songs in the Grammy Hall of Fame, won five American Music Awards as Favorite Band, Duo or Group in the soul/R&B category and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.
"This is about our 40th anniversary, but it's really a celebration of all the music we've created during that time," said bassist Verdine White. "My favorite part at this point is seeing the fans, seeing all the new fans and multiple generations all enjoying it together."
With such a storied history in music, White laughed when I referred to the group as the elder statesmen or godfathers of the R&B genre.
"Hey now -- that makes us sound old, and we're still looking and sounding good!"
Even so, White admitted to being honored as an inspiration to so many generations of new artists.
"It is great seeing the influence we've had on all these artists and how all these new kids we haven't seen before are now coming to see us as a result," he said.
Even with an anniversary tour at hand, White said Earth, Wind & Fire doesn't have any intention of slowing down. With a studio album released in 2009 and a live disc out in 2010, White said the band has every intention to keep recording and touring, just like it always has.
"We just hope people keep liking it and enjoying it and keep coming out to the concerts," he said.
Although the band has a rich recording history, its legacy and reputation have really grown around the live show. Even in 2011, Earth, Wind & Fire still pulls out all the stops with a high energy show that chronicles hits from four decades as well as a selection of new songs. The band still sets a standard with its performances, replete with a full horn section and top caliber musicianship.
When speaking with White, you can tell that the band still truly loves performing and appreciates its fans, first and foremost.
"I'm so happy the fans still love what we do," he said. "We can't wait to get out there and see everyone again."
Earth, Wind & Fire's current tour brings the band back to Brady Theater this Friday for a legendary night of funk, rock, soul and R&B. Tickets are still available for one of the most influential bands still touring for $47.50 and $65.
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