#RespectYourElders: Philip Bailey, age 68, is an American singer, songwriter and percussionist for Earth, Wind & Fire (EWF). Bailey’s musical success is in part due to his vocal versatility and ability to play across many musical genres, including R&B, jazz, soul, gospel and funk.
Bailey was born in Denver, Colorado in 1951. He says music was his first language and Bailey’s mother recalls him singing before he was talking. Bailey listened to everything from folk music to jazz as a child and drew early inspiration from a collection of Miles Davis and John Coltrane records.
Drumming and singing consumed Bailey’s teenage years. He frequently played club gigs throughout high school and college, sometimes pulling all-nighters to perform twice a night. Bailey’s R&B band — Friends & Love — impressed EWF founder Maurice White so much that he asked Bailey to join them in 1972. Bailey accepted and took on a new role as co-singer and percussionist for the band. Shortly after he moved to Los Angeles with EWF.
The soulful band took the ’70s by storm. EWF put out several albums in the ’70s including their acclaimed record “That’s the Way of the World,” which included “Shining Star,” a Grammy Award-winning hit that reached the top of pop and R&B charts. Their sets often included magical elements, such as floating pianos, spinning drum kits and vanishing artists, thanks to behind the scenes work of magicians Doug Henning and David Copperfield.
EWF’s music helped shape a new identity for black popular music, including themes of racial pride, African consciousness and spiritual unity. Regardless of race, their messages of universal love and unity resonated across the U.S. during the Post-Civil Rights Movement Era.
In the early ’80s, White was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and EWF took a hiatus. Bailey issued his first solo album, “Continuation,” in 1983. The following year, he released “Chinese Wall,” which Phil Collins produced and contributed to on the duet hit “Easy Lover.”
EWF got back together in 1987, but White stepped away from performing with the band in 1994. Even though White continued to write, produce and record with the group, Bailey took over as the front man of EWF.
The band has sold more than 90 million albums around the world and in 2000 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Bailey shows no sign of stopping his musical journey, staying busy with the band and his solo projects. EWF is currently touring across the U.S. and recently played at the Chicago Theatre. His 12th solo record, a jazz album called”Love Will Find a Way,” was released this summer.
“My voice is my instrument — beyond being a percussionist — and you never stop discovering the instrument and learning things through a lifetime, through a journey,” Bailey once said. “I’ve never looked at putting a period there. It’s about moving forward.”