Everyone has a favorite Earth, Wind & Fire song, whether it’s a ballad (Reasons, After the Love Has Gone), a party anthem (September, Fantasy, Sing a Song) a jazzy groove (Shining Star, their remake of The Beatles’ Got to Get You Into My Life), futuristic funk (Let’s Groove) or even disco (Boogie Wonderland).
The legendary R&B, soul and funk group has been making people sing, dance and smile for more than four decades — and the band, including founding singers Maurice White and Philip Bailey, will do it again Wednesday at the Hard Rock Live Arena near Hollywood.
You’ll hear all the hits, plus a few tracks from the new album, Now, Then & Forever, EWF’s first in eight years.
Bailey talked to the Miami Herald about the new album, how it felt to perform for President Obama, his new memoir Shining Star, and how he developed his famous falsetto.
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Q: So will the show be mostly greatest hits, or will we hear some new stuff as well?
A: It’ll be mostly greatest hits, and we do several songs from the Now, Then & Forever CD, and it works really well in the show.
Q: What was the mindset going into recording your first album in eight years?
A: Well, I wanted to go back and make sure that we made an Earth, Wind & Fire record. Prior to those eight years, we had other outside producers and guest stars and all kinds of different things. We just wanted to go back to the beginning and do it similar to the way we did in the past, where it was more in-house and comes from the band, the group. And it was the highest-charting debut record we’ve had in 30 years. So it was good — it’s a different day and a different time where music is in our society, so we didn’t have the record sales that we had back in the past. But it’s a solid record, and one that we added songs from to our current lineup, and people receive it very well.
Q: So why did it take eight years between albums?
A: We got the opportunity from Sony Legacy to do it, and it took awhile because we started kind of like in the same vein where we were in the last eight years, doing it with different people and all that. And I listened to everything and said, no, we need to readdress this. And I’m glad I did, because we came up with Now, Then & Forever, a real Earth, Wind & Fire record.
Q: What are some of your favorite songs to perform live?
A: I can’t say that some are more or less enjoyable — I think the people make it what it is. Our music now is kind of the soundtrack of so many people’s lives over 43 years, so now we do the music and it’s a nice little celebration that you have with people. It’s a good feeling to watch them reminisce and remember where they were and what they were doing and all that kind of stuff.
Q: Did you always have that great falsetto, from the beginning?
A: Yeah, I’ve always had it. It started when I was a kid, and I didn’t even know what it was. I write about it in my book, about discovering that my higher register was a falsetto. I was singing in a club and a music teacher commented after the set that I had a great falsetto, and I said, “Hmm.” I didn’t know what that was — it was the first time I had ever heard of falsetto. I was just mimicking songs that I loved, and they just happened to be in a high register.
Q: Maybe a little Smokey Robinson?
A: I was more mimicking female vocalists, like Sarah Vaughan and Morgana King, Ella Fitzgerald, Dionne Warwick. And then I was a big fan of Curtis Mayfield and Eddie Kendricks.
Q: Is your book available now?
A: Oh, it certainly is — it’s out. And there’s an audio version, and I actually read it. And it’s also on download at any of your local retailers. But it was an interesting project — I guess if I don’t know myself by now, having done the book, then there’s some problems [laughs]. You know, books don’t go out of style — it’s there. It’s not like a record, where somebody’ll go, “That’s out of date.”
Q: Did you end up revealing anything that you were a little uncomfortable with?
A: Oh, of course. It’s a real book — it’s not just a litany of accomplishments and braggadocio successes. It’s real life.
Q: Speaking of accomplishments, what are some of your career highlights that stand out to you?
A: Well, we just did the Proms in London — we had 50,000 people or more — and that was a very prestigious event, and we closed it. They do it in the park and at Royal Albert Hall, and we were chosen to close it this year. Earth, Wind & Fire is still, fortunately, a very international sought-after group, so we were on that airplane a lot. You can’t get any more pages on a passport. So we have a good time and are very blessed. We recognize the enormity and the rarity of our success at our age, actually doing it the way we’re doing it. So we’re very thankful and still very healthy, and having a good time.
Q: One highlight that jumps out at me is having President Obama invite you to perform at the White House for the first social event of his administration. How was that experience?
A: It was awesome, because we never would have dreamt in our lifetime that we would have an African-American president, and then that’s not to say anything about the fact that we never envisioned us playing for any president, ever. But we’ve played for several now — we played for the Clinton administration, and we’ve played three times now for President Obama. It’s quite a “pinch me” moment.
Q: So you guys must be pretty good friends by now, huh?
A: Oh, I’m not gonna say that [laughs]. But we’ve been in his presence now several times, and it’s always been a very warm, great experience, and a great honor.
Q: How long do you want to keep performing and making music?
A: You know, people always ask me that question, and I wonder what they expect me to say: Till next year? Around February I’m gonna hang it up? [Laughs]. I’m a musician. I would be playing music if there wasn’t anything else. I started playing music and was very surprised that you got paid for it. So I’ll be playing music till my dying day. Because that’s who I am, and it’s not about the people so much as it is about the music. And it just so happens that people are able to enjoy and experience my artistry, but I play music because I love music.
If you go
What: Earth, Wind & Fire
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Hard Rock Live Arena at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, 1 Seminole Way, near Hollywood
Info: Ticketmaster; $45-$75