Earth, Wind & Fire still shining nearly 50 years in
At this point, there’s just not much that legendary funk and soul collective Earth, Wind & Fire hasn’t accomplished.
According to some estimates, the band has sold nearly 100 million albums, making them among the world’s best-selling acts of all time, and their perennial hits — September, Shining Star, and Let’s Groove — have ruled dance floors across the globe for decades.
They’ve performed at the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the U.S. Open, and at the White House for two different Presidents.
Earth, Wind & Fire’s music has been featured in countless films and television shows, sampled by the likes of Drake, Jay-Z, and Snoop Dogg, and covered by everyone from legendary beat maker J Dilla and jazz great Ramsey Lewis to pop superstars Whitney Houston and Taylor Swift.
But even that painfully truncated list of remarkable accolades pales in comparison to the amount of hardware they’ve collected over the years.
Earth, Wind & Fire has been honored with six Grammys, one Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a NAACP Image Award, the BET Lifetime Achievement Award, four American Music Awards, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And in 2000, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Yet good luck trying to get founding bassist Verdine White to reflect back on all that his group has achieved.
“It’s definitely a blessing,” he said recently during a break in rehearsals for the band’s second Vegas residency in as many years. “But I really don’t think about it. The key is to do the work. You just put your head down and do the work. You appreciate what you’ve done. But you just keep moving.”
White’s older brother Maurice founded Earth, Wind & Fire in 1969 and served as its bandleader, principal songwriter, and co-lead singer until shortly before his death from Parkinson’s disease in 2016. Verdine has been a part of the band since 1970 and current members Philip Bailey and Ralph Johnson have anchored the collective since 1972.
And while their legacy was cemented a long time ago, they still haven’t given up on the creative side of things.
Their latest full-length studio album, Now, Then & Forever (the band’s 20th overall), was released in 2013. It was only one spot shy of cracking the top 10 on Billboard’s 200 and made it all the way to No. 6 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Album chart.
They followed it a year later with Holiday, Earth, Wind & Fire’s first-ever Christmas album, which peaked on Billboard’s seasonal chart at No. 8.
Given that the band, who also performed to fanfare of all ages at last year’s KAABOO Del Mar, has nothing left to prove and is quickly approaching its 50th year, could it be possible that the band will deliver a 22nd album before it’s all said and done?
“Absolutely,” said White. “But I think we’ll figure that out later. The first thing we’re doing is getting through this residency and Vegas run. We’re taking that first and we’ll figure everything out after that.”
After nearly five decades of making music, it’d be unreasonable to expect anything but a diplomatic and open-ended answer to such a question. White is an expert in these kinds of things after all. So it was no surprise that he had a similar response when asked about his band’s place in the long and celebrated history of R&B and soul music.
“I think we’re past that,” he said. “I think all of the barriers have been broken down by now. It’s all just music these days. And that’s not a bad thing. People still love the band. And for that, I’m very grateful.”
Earth, Wind & Fire
When: 7 p.m. March 24
Where: Pechanga Resort Casino, 45000 Pechanga Parkway, Temecula
Sign up for the Pacific Insider newsletter
PACIFIC magazine delivers the latest restaurant and bar openings, festivals and top concerts, every Tuesday.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Pacific San Diego.