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Earth, Wind & Fire have been described as one of the most innovative and are among the most commercially successful acts of all time. With sales of over 90 million records, they are one of the world's best-selling bands of all time.
The band was founded in Chicago by Maurice White in 1969, having grown out of a previous band known as the Salty Peppers. In 1969, Maurice White, a former session drummer for Chess Records and former member of the Ramsey Lewis Trio, joined two friends in Chicago, Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead, as a songwriting team composing songs and commercials in the Chicago area. The three friends eventually got a recording contract with Capitol Records. Calling themselves The Salty Peppers, they went on to have a marginal hit single in the Midwestern area titled LA LA TIME.
The Salty Peppers' second single, UH HUH YEAH, did not fare as well. Maurice moved on from Chicago to Los Angeles. He added to the band singer Sherry Scott and percussionist Yackov Ben Israel, both from Chicago, and then asked his younger brother Verdine how he would feel about heading out to the West Coast. On June 6, 1970, Verdine left Chicago to join the band as their new bassist. Maurice began shopping demo tapes of the band, featuring Donny Hathaway, around to different record labels and the band was eventually signed to Warner Bros. Records.
After changing the band's name to Earth, Wind & Fire Maurice held further auditions in L.A. where he added Michael Beal on guitar, Chester Washington on reeds, and Leslie Drayton on trumpet. With Maurice as a percussionist and lead vocalist Drayton also served as the group's musical arranger. Trombonist Alex Thomas completed the then ten-man EWF lineup.
The band has won six Grammys from their 17 nominations and four American Music Awards out of 12 nominations. They have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, the NAACP Image Award Hall of Fame, and Hollywood's Rockwalk, in addition to receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The band has also received an ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Heritage Award, BET Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Soul Train Legend Award, as well as a NARAS Signature Governor's Award, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2012 Congressional Horizon Award, and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2019.
Other prominent members of EWF have included Philip Bailey, Verdine White, Ralph Johnson, Larry Dunn, Al McKay, Roland Bautista, Robert Brookins, Sonny Emory, Fred Ravel, Ronnie Laws, Sheldon Reynolds and Andrew Woolfolk. The band is known for its kalimba sound, dynamic horn section, energetic and elaborate stage shows, and the contrast between Philip Bailey's falsetto vocals and Maurice White's baritone.
Earth, Wind & Fire's songs have been covered by Whitney Houston, D'Angelo, Donny Osmond, Patti LaBelle, Taylor Swift, Olly Murs and Kirk Franklin. They have also been covered by Wynonna Judd, Maxine Nightingale, Yolanda Adams, Ledisi, Miki Howard, Chicago, and Chaka Khan.
EWF has been sampled by Drake, A Tribe Called Quest, Missy Elliott, Public Enemy, Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, the Fugees, LL Cool J, Kid Ink, Salt-n-Pepa and Basement Jaxx. The band has also been sampled by Björk, Diddy, The Roots, Will Smith, Nas, TLC, Common, Lupe Fiasco, Big Sean, Tupac Shakur and MC Lyte.
Miles Davis described EWF as his "all time favorite band", saying, "they have everything (horns, electric guitar, singers and more) in one band". Quincy Jones has proclaimed himself to be the "biggest fan of Earth, Wind & Fire since day one." Alicia Keys has proclaimed EWF as being "the best band ever". Dionne Warwick has named Earth, Wind & Fire as her favorite group of all time. Mark Ronson has also proclaimed that he loves "anything by Earth, Wind & Fire."