Perhaps best known as one of the lead singers of Earth, Wind & Fire, Philip Bailey has had a career marked by numerous industry accolades and chart-topping success – but it’s here in Colorado that his story began.
A True Chameleon of Musical Styles
With his musical versatility and many talents, Bailey is an artist who is often difficult to characterize. Time and time again, he’s proven that his skill simply transcends genres. But for most fans who are familiar with his work, Bailey is primarily an R&B and soul singer, with a considerable body of work that falls under the umbrellas of gospel and funk. He has also established himself as a talented songwriter and percussionist over the years, and has even graced the Broadway stage and television screens.
During his time with the iconic Earth, Wind & Fire, Bailey consistently demonstrated his impressive vocal prowess. When singing live, he could easily switch between his falsetto and a tenor, and served as the band’s on-stage leader when founder Maurice White retired from the road.
When Bailey began his solo career in the early 1980s, his R&B dance style captured the attention of both music critics and fans. As the years continued, his passion for exploring new musical art forms only grew as he released both jazz and gospel music albums. As recently as 2018, he made vocal appearances on numerous contemporary artists’ albums, including those of CeeLo Green and Travis Scott. Bailey’s most recent album release was in 2019, with Love Will Find a Way exploring the complex topic of racism in America.
A Denver Native with Worldwide Success
Born in Denver in 1951, Bailey is a true native of Colorado. He was a student at East High School and also attended both the University of Colorado and what became Metropolitan State University of Denver. Asked to name some of his earliest influences, Bailey points to such jazz icons as John Coltrane and Miles Davis, female singers like Dionne Warwick and Sarah Vaughan, and the signature Motown stylings of Stevie Wonder.
While he was a student at CU, his path crossed with that of Maurice White. The founder of Earth, Wind & Fire (initially called Salty Peppers when it was created in 1969), White invited Bailey to join the fledgling band. Bailey became part of an incredibly talented group that featured Verdine White (bass), Ronnie Laws (flute and saxophone), Jessica Cleaves (vocals), Larry Dunn (keyboard), Roland Bautista (guitar), and Ralph Johnson (percussion).
Bailey brought his vocal skills to the band, earning the spot of featured lead vocalist on popular tracks such as “Reasons,” “Fantasy,” “Star,” “I’ve Had Enough,” “Devotion” and “Keep Your Head to the Sky.” He also often shared lead vocals with White, and together they headed hit songs including “September,” “Serpentine Fire,” “Sing a Song” and “Shining Star.” Earth, Wind & Fire also collaborated with The Emotions, which led to the classic release “Boogie Wonderland.”
One of the defining characteristics of Earth, Wind & Fire was that the band’s genre was virtually impossible to pin down. Its unique style bridged the gap between white and Black audiences, with songs transcending the often-limiting boundaries of race. With elements of jazz, pop, rock, soul, blues, folk, African music, and disco, the band and Bailey himself reshaped the music industry forever.
Bailey has been recognized by the Grammys, BET, and other industry leaders, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Berklee College of Music. His legacy also includes charity efforts that support foster children through music.