Earth, Wind & Fire Becomes First Black Group Inducted Into Kennedy Center Honors

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Surviving members of Earth, Wind and Fire from left Verdine White, Philip Bailey and Ralph Johnson. The Root photo.

Earth, Wind & Fire made history this month, becoming the first Black group inducted into Kennedy Center Honors.

And the group’s original members were in attendance for the 42nd Annual Kennedy Center Honors, which aired on December 15, where the star-studded event also included a celebrity performance of the iconic group’s 1978 hit single, “September.”

Cynthia Erivo, John Legend, and the Jonas Brothers led the tribute with Ne-Yo and producer David Foster joining the fun as stars like Tom and Rita Hanks, Sally Field, and the members of Earth, Wind & Fire danced along in the audience.

Founded by the late legend Maurice White in the 1970s, Earth, Wind & Fire emerged on the scene with an unprecedented sound that was an amalgamation of funk, pop, jazz, and R&B sensibilities.

“I wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before,” White once explained. “Although we were basically jazz musicians, we played soul, funk, gospel, blues, jazz, rock, and dance music […] which somehow ended up becoming pop. We were coming out of a decade of experimentation, mind expansion and cosmic awareness. I wanted our music to convey messages of universal love and harmony without force-feeding listeners’ spiritual content.”

Throughout the course of their near 50-year history, Earth, Wind & Fire has evolved into the gold standard for R&B music, accruing six Grammys, four American Music Awards, a BET Lifetime Achievement Award, a Soul Train Legend Award, and an induction into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame along the way. Additionally, outside of composing countless unofficial Black national anthems, the group has sold over 90 million records, making them one of the best-selling bands of all time.

“In this class of honorees, we are witnessing a uniquely American story: one that is representative of so many cultural touchstones and musical moments that make our nation great,” Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter said. “When I look at this class, I see the hopes, aspirations, and achievements not just of these honorees, but of the many generations they have influenced and continue to influence. We’re not just looking back; these honorees are urging us to look forward as well.”

NewsOne, Essence magazine and The Root contributed to this report.

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