The legendary band Earth, Wind & Fire brings its signature sound of soul, funk, gospel, blues, jazz and rock to the Academy of Music as part of the 2012 Guiding Lights Tour tonight.
Led by founding members Philip Bailey, Ralph Johnson and Verdine White, the global music pioneers will be performing with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia. Following a string of sold-out engagements in five countries, the group, also known as EWF, is embarking on their U.S. tour, currently named for its new single, “Guiding Lights.”
With a celebrated legacy of over four decades and 20 Grammy Awards, White says the popularity of the group continues today mainly because of the music. “People have memories of the music. It’s just one of those things, and so audiences keep coming back over and over again to hear us. I also think we’ve been lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. And we’re still there.”
White is the bassist for EWF, and the younger brother of band founder Maurice White. “We all grew up listening to recordings of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and other jazz musicians,” he recalls.
White says he was also influenced by his two drummer brothers, Fred and Maurice, and by the “Motown sound and the Beatles.”
And, he says, “Once I saw and heard Maurice play I knew what I wanted to do. My late dad was also a musician and he wanted us to be involved in music. So I was very lucky and very blessed to have had other people inspire me and help me along the way.”
When he was 15, Verdine White saw a double bass in his high school orchestra classes and decided then and there that he wanted to play bass. And that’s just what he did and has continued to do ever since.
Founded in Chicago in 1969, Maurice White named the band after the three elements of his astrological chart. Since then, the group’s new brand of music, with added pieces of African music and disco to create an evolving form of fusion, has bridged the gap that has often separated the musical tastes of Black and white America. And their music EWF has been known to influence many other powerhouse musicians over the years, from Prince to Beyoncé.
With their long list of Grammy Awards, White says humbly that he’s only received six, himself, although he’s also been Grammy-nominated seventeen times, and has also been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well as the Vocal Group Hall of Fame to name a few honors.
In 2007, Verdine White was inducted into the Boys and Girls Club’s Alumni Hall of Fame. He is also the co-founder of the Verdine White Foundation, which aims to provide musical education to underprivileged and gifted students.
“After 41 years in the business, I would say one of the biggest challenges I face, and we face as a group, is staying relevant, keeping up with the changing times and the changing economy,” White explains. “But as we manage to get past all that we continue to have a really great time.”
In fact, he adds, getting past all that and facing his audiences — these days both young and old — is the best part of his day. “Looking out at all those faces is really the most fun I have. I would say we are the perfect example of a multicultural group that appeals to what America is really about and what the world is all about.”
And he has no plans to give all that up, insisting retirement is not in his future. “I have a great life and don’t know what I would do if I retired. I wouldn’t want to just sit around the house, and I know my wife would throw me out if I did.
“I think the secret of happiness in life is to do what you love and love what you do. That way, it’s never work. Just stay with what you know and what you love, and you’ll live a long, long, happy life,” he concludes.
For times and ticket information, call (215) 893-1999.