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The Fall & Rise of the Show Band

The Fall & Rise of the Show Band

Bands like Earth, Wind & Fire disappeared from the radio, but re-emerge for a new generation

by Matthew Allen

Photo by Randee St. Nicholas

It’s a late September evening in 2013 at new York’s Beacon Theatre. Earth, Wind & Fire (EWF)—which had a smash hit, “September,” celebrating just this sort of night—has packed the house to capacity. It’s a raucous show, full of video projections, lasers, smoke and virtuoso playing and singing; things that fans have become accustomed to since 1972. That night, classics like “Fantasy,” “Shining Star” and “Sing A Song” all caused a stir, but so did songs from their new album, Now, Then & Forever, songs like “Sign On,” and “My Promise.” In the weeks following that night, the new album from the seasoned veterans stormed the charts, peaking at Number 11, their highest-charting release in decades. It became clear that an audience for this band and their kind of music remains, even if those very charts don’t, today, indicate all that much.

Some critics consider “the Elements” to be just a relic of pleasing nostalgia now, but during their ’70s heyday, EWF were considered the consensus kings among that era’s most successful, like-minded bands: the Ohio Players, Heatwave, Slave, Cameo, Kool & the Gang, Parliament Funkadelic, Con Funk Shun, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, War and others working with a fusion of funk, disco, soul, jazz and R&B. Those groups all achieved crossover success, expanding their audiences beyond R&B and into pop.

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