“He wanted a band that could do a bit of everything,” Verdine White said of his brother Maurice, founder of Earth, Wind & Fire.
And he got it. Earth, Wind & Fire, which debuted on disc in 1970, has taken elements from R&B, jazz, funk, rock, blues, Latin, dance and gospel music and filtered them through impeccable musicianship, a life-affirming lyrical approach, and high-energy, infectious live shows. It’s hard to hear an EWF song — “Shining Star,” “September,” “Serpentine Fire,” their cover of the Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life” that pretty near outdoes the Fab Four themselves — without dancing, grooving … or at least smiling. The 10-piece band both exemplified 1970s soul and transcended it.
Maurice White is gone now, having passed in 2016, but the band is carrying on what he started, with younger brother and original member Verdine still among the frontmen on bass, drums and vocals, joined by longtime members Philip Bailey (percussion, kalimba, conga, vocals) and Ralph Johnson (drums, percussion, vocals). The current lineup, according to the EWF website, also includes Myron McKinley (keyboards), Philip Bailey Jr. (background vocals), B. David Whitworth (percussion, vocals), Morris O’Connor and Serg Dimitrijevic (guitar) and John Paris (drums, vocals), with the horn section of Gary Bias (saxophone), Bobby Burns Jr. (trumpet) and Reggie Young (trombone).
That boogie wonderland comes to town next week, when Earth, Wind & Fire perform at Constellation Brands-Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center on Wednesday, Aug. 29, at 8 p.m. (Gates open at 6:30 p.m.) It’s the second-to-last show for the CMAC season; Steve Martin and Martin Short perform Aug. 31. (Trivia: EWF and Steve Martin were in the same movie once, the weird Beatles pastiche “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” EWF’s “Got to Get You Into My Life” cover and Martin’s manic embodiment of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” were arguably the most watchable moments.)
Nearly five decades has meant multiple generations of Earth, Wind & Fire fans, each in turn discovering a band that insists you’re a shining star — no matter who you are.