Earth, Wind & Fire (EWF) made history earlier this week when they became the first African-American band to be inducted into the Kennedy Center Honors at the 42nd edition of the annual awards and performance ceremony this past Sunday, December 8th.
Three of the band’s original members, Philip Bailey, Ralph Johnson, and Verdine White, were in attendance to accept the honor. Other recipients were singer Linda Ronstadt, two-time Academy Award-winner Sally Field, Grammy Award-winner Michael Tilson Thomas, and beloved children’s show Sesame Street—which is celebrating its 50th birthday this year.
The Kennedy Center Honors have been an annual presentation since 1978. The distinction is awarded to leaders in the performing arts for their longstanding contributions to American culture.
Bailey commented on the group’s success in relation to being the first African-American inductees in an interview with Billboard in saying, “There are so many more African-American acts that are deserving and perhaps this can be the first of many more to come.”
The Chicago-based multi-genre musical group has been making music for nearly 50 years. Formed in 1969, EWF is known for blending the smooth styles of R&B and soul with the energy and commercial elements of funk, rock, and jazz to become one of the more inventive and successful pop acts of the past several decades.
As the gala convened in the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C., singer Ralph Johnson paid respects to late EWF founder Maurice White, who passed away in 2016. “You can’t play any Earth Wind & Fire songs without Maurice’s DNA being on it,” said Johnson. “So he’s always here and we’re always celebrating him and his vision.”
While it is difficult to get politicians in Washington to agree on much these days, a large group of lawmakers and cabinet members on both sides of the aisle were present to celebrate this historic event.
When the Kennedy Center board chairman David Rubenstein mentioned the presence of members such as House Speaker and noted Deadhead Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), the room elevated and erupted with applause. Along with over 40 members of Congress, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Munchin were also present.
On the heels of their 50th year, EWF members hinted at the possibility of a new album, though they were hesitant to provide details. “We’re making a list, and checking it twice,” Bailey told Billboard. “You’ll hear about it soon.”
The event will air on network television Sunday, December 15th, on CBS.