Inducted: November 28, 2017
Andrew Woolfolk is undoubtedly best known as a longtime member of legendary R&B group Earth, Wind & Fire. But while many of his career highlights as a talented saxophonist are interwoven with the famous band’s achievements, Woolfolk’s story begins long before — and continues after — that period of his life.
Born on October 11, 1950, in San Antonio, Texas, Woolfolk first developed an interest in music at the age of 13. As a student at Denver’s East High School, he shared a campus with two of his future Earth, Wind & Fire bandmates, Philip Bailey and Larry Dunn. The trio spent time playing music with a local group known as Friends & Love, covering diverse genres to entertain Denver-area audiences.
Throughout his high school years, Woolfolk explored a variety of instruments, demonstrating his promising versatility, even as a teenager. He studied soprano and tenor saxophone, percussion and flute, and performed with the Echoes of Youth gospel choir, where he honed his vocal talents and crossed paths with the choir’s organist, future actress Pam Grier.
Woolfolk’s dedication to music study continued into his college years, as did his friendships with Dunn and Bailey. In 1971, Friends & Love was the opening act for a promotional gig hosted by the original members of Earth, Wind & Fire at a Denver Hilton. At that time, the national group leaned toward a brassy, jazz-heavy style.
Led by founder Maurice White, the band switched gears with the arrival of several new members. The focus changed from the original jazz style to exhilarating dance music infused with unique lyrics and upbeat rhythms. At this point, Woolfolk was studying saxophone under his mentor, jazz artist Joe Henderson, and had plans to begin a career in banking. But a phone call from his old pal Bailey would soon change his life — and the history of American music.
Earth, Wind & Fire’s reworked musical concept proved a formula for near-instant success. In the meantime, two members of the group had moved on to other opportunities, and Bailey recommended both Woolfolk and Dunn as new members. Woolfolk officially became the group’s saxophonist in 1973, and for more than a decade, he performed around the globe as the band rocketed to international fame. Often called one of the most innovative musical acts of all time, Earth, Wind & Fire completely transformed the sound of Black pop.
With multiple chart-topping hits, including an album recorded at Colorado’s famous Caribou Ranch, Earth, Wind & Fire became a household name. Woolfolk experienced everything from Grammy wins and triple-platinum albums to epic live performances and roles in feature films.
By 1984, the group had reached a level of fame and success its members had not imagined possible. After releasing their thirteenth studio album, Electric Universe, they opted to take a brief break. During this time, Woolfolk and others pursued a variety of solo projects, many of which were successful in their own right.
In 1987, the group reunited and brought on a handful of new members. Earth, Wind & Fire, with Woolfolk continuing his role as a saxophonist, continued to release well-received albums for several years. In 1995, Woolfolk and several other members took part in a ceremony at the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where the group was honored with a star. In early 2000, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
Over the years, Woolfolk has mastered alto, tenor and soprano saxophone as well as flute and percussion. In addition to his work with Earth, Wind & Fire, he’s collaborated with such notable musicians as Phil Collins, Valerie Carter, Deniece Williams, Level 42 and Ricky Lawson.
The Colorado Music Hall of Fame was proud to induct Andrew Woolfolk (as part of Earth, Wind, & Fire) with the Class of 2017, forever cementing his place in Colorado music history.