I received an invitation to attend a talk and performance at USC Bovard Auditorium April 18 by Phillip Bailey, lead singer of Earth, Wind & Fire, to discuss music, mastery and philosophy. I immediately accepted the invitation.
Over the course of my lifetime I’ve met a who’s who of world figures and have pictures with them all such as Michael Jackson, Muhammad Ali, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack and Michelle Obama, just to name a few.
But I had never met one of my most cherished idols Phillip Bailey ,whose music I have loved since I was a child growing up in South L.A.
I would come home from school and play Earth, Wind & Fire albums almost every day. As I walked onto the campus of USC, I had flashbacks of the USC marching band under the leadership of Arthur Bartner, director of the USC Marching Band. The USC band since 1981 would always play “In the Stone” during halftime of each Trojan home game.
So as I walked into the auditorium, which quickly filled up, and took my seat Bailey walked out on stage and the program began with a question and answer dialogue and quickly evolved with Bailey performing some classic Earth Wind & Fire hits accompanied by his band and background singer wife Valerie Bailey and son Phillip Doron Bailey, who is also a member of Earth, Wind & Fire.
Bailey talked about the early history of the band and how he was recruited by founders Maurice and Verdine White, when he was only 19.
Earth, Wind & Fire was a good band with a few hit singles but once Bailey joined the group it shot to instant stardom and went on to dominate the charts for more than two decades, selling out concerts across the world.
Bailey also talked about how his career began. He was born and raised in Denver. He attended East High School in Denver and graduated in 1969. Some of Bailey’s early influences included jazz musicians such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Max Roach, the Motown sound, in particular the music of Stevie Wonder and he was also largely influenced by female singers such as Sarah Vaughan and Dionne Warwick.
Noted for his four-octave vocal range and distinctive falsetto, Bailey has won seven Grammy Awards. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame as a member of Earth, Wind & Fire. Bailey was also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame for his work with the band.
Bailey has released several solo albums. “Chinese Wall” from 1984, which received a Grammy Award nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male, included the international hit, “Easy Lover,” a duet with Phil Collins. “Easy Lover” won an MTV Video Music Award for Best Overall Performance in a Video in 1985 and was Grammy nominated for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
The highlight for me was the event’s conclusion with Bartner and the USC band members marching on stage and performing “In the Stone” with Bailey as the crowd rose to their feet and we all danced in the aisles. As the show concluded, I was blessed by a fellow Trojan, Ashley Ray, who escorted me backstage where I finally met Phillip Bailey, and captured the moment with a picture and video.
Bailey was humble and gracious and meeting him was of some comfort to me as I and our community continues to mourn the tragic loss of Nipsey Hussle.
Speaking of Nipsey Hussle, the petition this writer created the day after Hussle’s murder to rename the Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue intersection as Nipsey Hussle Square has received more than half a million signatures from all across the world, breaking a record at change.org for most signatures by a music-related petition, according to staff members who called me with the good news. I want to personally thank everyone who signed it. Thanks to L.A. City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who responded to our call and has designated Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue intersection as Nipsey Hussle Square.
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By Najee Ali