Shining Stars: Earth, Wind & Fire Burnish Their Legend In Charm City

The iconic masters of funk, soul, jazz, Afrobeats and R&B recently kicked off a shining star-powered weekend of concerts that included Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (April 7) and Eagles (April 8) at the newly refurbished CFG Bank Arena. The April 6 invitation-only event was a high-wattage celebration for thousands of workers, business leaders and city officials who helped transform the sleepy downtown arena into Charm City’s inspired, new music mecca. 

Earth, Wind & Fire brought the house down at CFG Bank Arena, reimagined from the ground up.

“That area of the country was very special to Earth, Wind & Fire’s legacy and history. The Baltimore, Philly, D.C. area, that’s where the whole thing jumped off first,” said Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire. “We were big in that area before we were any place else.” 

Earth, Wind & Fire originated in Chicago and was formed by music visionary Maurice White, who died in 2016. He named the group after elements from his astrological charts and, since 1969, Earth, Wind & Fire have charted eight No. 1 songs, released 23 records (eight double Platinum) and sold more than 100 million albums worldwide. 

The group has won nine Grammy awards including one for Lifetime Achievement (2012) in addition to receiving lifetime achievement honors from ASCAP, NAACP and BET. In 2019, their impact on arts and culture was acknowledged in Washington, D.C., with the Kennedy Center Honors and, in 2000, the group was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

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Earth, Wind & Fire perform at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles Sept. 13, 2019. Photo by Jess Gleeson

In 2022, they won Best R&B Tour at the 2022 Pollstar Awards and show no sign of slowing down with the upcoming “Sing a Song All Night Long” tour with Lionel Richie, which starts Aug. 4 and runs through Sept. 15 with a return stop at CFG Bank Arena on Aug. 19. 

The tour follows the band’s highly successful “Miraculous Supernatural Tour” with Santana in 2022 and is part of a larger booking strategy, according to Brett Steinberg of Creative Artists Agency who has been the band’s agent for more than 15 years.

“What we want to do obviously, is maintain the existing base and grow that audience and expand what they have accomplished all these years, by packaging up with other iconic artists from Chicago to Santana, and now following up this year with Lionel Richie,” Steinberg explained.  

In addition, Steinberg and the team at Full Stop Management have developed a strategy to reach younger fans by booking festivals including Bonnaroo in Tennessee, Firefly Music Festival in Delaware and Wireless Festival in London. 

In 2021, the band collaborated with Lucky Daye on “You Want My Love,” a reimagined take on their 1975 hit “Can’t Hide Love,” which was produced by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. When it was released, the track was the No. 1 most added song at R&B radio.

According to Pollstar Boxoffice reports since 1981, Earth, Wind & Fire have sold 4.6 million tickets with a total gross of $212 million over the course of 897 headlining shows. Their three-year average gross is a whopping $702,100 and include million-dollar-plus hauls in August at MidFlorida’s Credit Union Amphitheater in Tampa and iThink Financial Amphitheater in West Palm Beach, Florida.

“I don’t have to convince anyone. Everyone knows,” said Steinberg, who also represents Stevie Wonder, Fleetwood Mac, Chicago, Bonnie Raitt, and Jackson Browne. “Earth, Wind & Fire delivers every single time and it makes my job so much easier.”

“The strategy is really about balance when it comes to the elements,” said manager Trinity Bailey, who is Philip Bailey’s daughter and co-manages the group with Karim Karmi.

Members of American R&B and Pop group Earth Wind & Fire perform onstage, 1970s. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

“The guys have been in the game for over 50 years and we just try to make sure that we aren’t exhausting them, or the market,” she explained. “It really comes down to acknowledging where the guys are in their career – their age as well – and making sure that they are energized. Working smarter doesn’t always have to do with the number of shows.”

Their longevity can be attributed to Maurice White’s original artistic vision, the timeless quality of the music, which continues to attract new fans while remaining a touchstone for the faithful, and the tireless dedication of the three principal band members – Bailey, lead vocals and percussion; bassist Verdine White and Ralph Johnson, vocals and percussion.

“You have to give the founder and architect of the band, Maurice White – Verdine’s brother – credit because he always wanted to make the band, conceptually, render a service to humanity,” Philip Bailey explained. “In other words, he wanted the band to make a positive difference. And that’s why we chose to write philosophically the way the band does and to present ourselves in a certain way with love and dignity and sophistication.”

During “That’s The Way of the World,” the band pays homage to Maurice White’s contributions and legacy with a photo montage of historical images curated by artistic/creative director Tishaun Dawson.

“The montage behind us tells the story of us and the audience goes on the journey with us all the way to the end,” explained Verdine White. 

No matter how busy they are on the road, the principal members find time for selfcare and a healthy lifestyle.

“They are really entuned and serious about their health and mindset,” said Trinity Bailey. “Making sure that they aren’t eating a bunch of junk on the road, which is easy to do. They are so mindful about those types of things like having grilled vegetables in the room instead of processed snacks, for example. They are balanced individuals.” 

Each member has their own routine: White practices yoga, Johnson cooks and Philip Bailey is a golfer. Each admits that maintaining their stamina is critical to meeting the strenuous demands of a non-stop, high-energy stage show. 

“You have to be in good shape to do this kind of stuff at a high level,” explained Philip Bailey.  “Everyone has their own different personal regimen. Over the years we’ve learned what you can do and what your body needs.”

CIRCA 1970: Photo of Earth Wind & Fire Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The technicolor graphics, dazzling mirrored wardrobe and continuous motion on stage is entrancing. The 12-piece ensemble is anchored by percussion and White’s bouncy rhythm provides an infectious groove. The stage setup hasn’t changed significantly over the years with the horn section in the center adding texture and intensity. The result is a dizzying display of choreography, strong vocals and undeniable musicianship.

Band members including Myron McKinley, music director and keyboards; John Paris, drums and vocals; Gary Bias, saxophone; Bobby Burns, trumpet; Reggie Young, trombone; Morris O’Connor, guitar and vocals; Serg Dimitrijevic, guitar and vocals; Benjamin David Whitworth Jr., vocals and percussion; and Bailey’s son Oshunde Shango Oshun, who joined the band in 2010, on vocals and percussion. Tony Bulluck is the band’s lauded production manager.  

“We have to give a nod to the stage directors we worked with over the years including George Faison,” said Philip Bailey. “They really taught us the ropes and how to entertain. We always say, ‘Hit your mark and do what we practiced.’ And we get overwhelming response every night.” 

In the ‘70s, the band pushed the envelope of stage production with pyrotechnics, lasers, levitating guitarists and soaring pyramids. Magician Doug Henning, with his blissed-out smile, and his then-assistant David Copperfield, directed many tours during that time, which included having the entire band ascend into a pyramid. 

“I worked with great stage directors and choreographers, people who have done this for great artists,” Bailey explained. “So, there’s a process and because we’ve done it for so long, I know what to do, or what not to do. And then you change it so we don’t get complacent. After a couple tours you want to change it up so that we’re not on automatic pilot.”

The band is gearing up for the road but not retirement. “Their passion is music,” said Trinity Bailey. “When we talk about retiring, they are saying, ‘Why would we do that?’ It’s a part of who they are. It’s in their blood. It’s not a matter of slowing down or retiring, it’s a matter of them being true to themselves.”