Sing a Song

Earth, Wind & Fire keep it going, one platinum album at a time View all events this week »


by Kevin Crowe

"A lot of young people are coming to our concerts,â” says Verdine White. It's been more than 35 years since the brothers Verdine and Maurice White founded Earth, Wind & Fire, a wondrous supergroup that has been able to blend their love of R&B with a thick slathering of funky jazz and phoenix horns, and the music has always managed to stand the test of time, even during the band's darkest periods. They've had plenty of highs and lows, but the music always finds a way to live on, generation after generation.

In 1972, Maurice White dissolved the group, even though the song â“I Think About Lovin' Youâ” became the group's first Top 40 R&B hit. Maurice rebuilt the band, and crooner Philip Bailey's signature falsettos added yet another dimension to the group's already impressive bag of tricks. And so it went, as EWF continued to glean new talent, taking their angelic harmonies and funk-laden rhythmic backbone to even greater heights, always reaching for some kind of spiritual exigency.

Clive Davis, president of Columbia Records, happened to hear EWF at Rockefeller Center; he jumped at the chance to buy the contract from Warner Brothers, who never really understood the depth and passion of EWF's music.

Constantly on the road throughout the '70s and early '80s, their musical oeuvre continued to grow, sometimes spontaneouslyâ"songs would come into being during soundchecks, as impromptu ditties that, nevertheless, carried a certain whimsical charm. There was hope in this music, which first reached audiences in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement.

It's vibrant and lively, an aural adventure that always reminds us that, yes, there are still moments of pure bliss, in spite of the state of the world around us.

Their first Top 10 hit, â“Sing a Song,â” first reached audiences during a soundcheck. It's pure fun, a brassy, breezy fantasia. Deceptively simple and outrageously addictive:

Bring your heart to believing

Sing a song, it'll make your day

Life ain't about no retrieving

Sing a song, it'll make a way

Give yourself what you need

Sing a song, it'll make your day

Smile, smile, smile and believe

Sing a song, it'll make a way

Every time Earth, Wind & Fire disappear from the chartsâ"sometimes taking hiatuses of several yearsâ"the music still manages to find a way into the hearts and minds of a new generation. This is the music of pure celebration, in a sense, a horn-laced sound that only grows thicker with time.

â“A lot of today's generation are seeing Sweetback and listening to the first records as well,â” White adds. He's talking about Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song , a film by the plucky Melvin Van Peebles. With it's epileptic use of montage and jump-cuts, Sweetback was unlike anything American audiences had ever seen, capturing both the righteousness and utter despondency of the African American condition at the end of the '60s.

Earth, Wind & Fire provided the music for the soundtrack, playing numbers that were composed by Van Peebles himself. Interestingly enough, Van Peebles couldn't read or write musical notation, so he numbered the keys on the piano, from 1 to 88.

â“It was a different type of a movie,â” White says. â“It was the beginning of an era.â”

But the good times aren't without their low points. In 1993, longtime EWF saxman, Don Myrick, was fatally shot by an LA police officerâ"a case of mistaken identity. Five years later, Maurice White was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.

â“It's just part of the course,â” White says. â“I didn't feel that those were rough times.â” He adds, preferring to move onto a more upbeat subject: â“We did the Grammies twice in three years, which is unusual.â”

Since the release of 2005's Illumination , EWF has continued to recapture the spirit of their early years, constantly pushing forward their philosophy of sound and constantly inspiring new and intrepid artists. And Maurice continues to perform with the group that he helped start so many years ago.

â“One of the best records that we've recorded in a long time,â” White goes on. â“To still have the commitment, it's a major accomplishmentâ.

â“That's why I think we're still here today. This is a great time for us.â”

WHO: Earth, Wind & Fire WHEN: Tuesday, August 14, 8 p.m. WHERE: Tennessee Theatre


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