Five Stairsteps

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The Five Stairsteps
Also known as The Five Stairsteps & Cubie; The Stairsteps; the Invisible Man's Band
Origin Chicago, Illinois, United States
Genres Chicago soul, soul, psychedelic soul, funk, disco
Years active 1965–1976
1979–1981 (as the IMB)
Labels Cameo-Parkway
Buddah
Mango
Dark Horse
Associated acts Curtis Mayfield
The Impressions
Billy Preston
George Harrison
The Invisible Man Band
Past members Alohe Burke
Clarence Burke, Jr.
James Burke
Dennis Burke
Kenneth "Keni" Burke
Cubie Burke
Dean Gant

The Five Stairsteps, known as "The First Family of Soul",[1] were an American Chicago soul group made up of five of Betty and Clarence Burke Sr.'s six children: Alohe Jean, Clarence Jr., James, Dennis, and Kenneth "Keni", and briefly, Cubie. They are best known for the 1970 song "O-o-h Child", listed #392 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

History[edit]

The Chicago group was dubbed "First Family of Soul" because of their successful five-year chart run; the moniker was later passed on to The Jackson 5.[1] Initially a teenage five-member brothers and sister vocal group made up of the children of Betty and Clarence Burke, The Five Stairsteps (named by Mrs. Burke who thought her kids looked like stair steps when lined up according to their age) featured lead singer Clarence Jr., Alohe, James, Dennis, and 13-year-old Kenneth ("Keni"). Most of the members attended Harlan High School. Clarence Sr. was a detective for the Chicago Police Department. He backed the group on bass guitar, managed them, and co-wrote songs with Clarence Jr. and Gregory Fowler.

After winning first prize in a talent contest at the Regal Theater, The Five Stairsteps received recording contract offers. A close neighbor and family friend was Fred Cash of The Impressions, who introduced the group to Curtis Mayfield. Signed to Mayfield's Windy City imprint, which was distributed by the Philadelphia based Cameo Parkway record label, their first single was Gregory Fowler's ballad "You Waited Too Long" b/w "Don't Waste Your Time," a Mayfield song. A double-sided hit in Chicago, the A-side, "You Waited Too Long," charted number 16 in the Billboard R&B chart in spring of 1966. Around the end of 1967, Cameo-Parkway folded and Windy City switched to Buddah Records through former Cameo-Parkway executive Neil Bogart, who joined the new label as co-president. The group's second album, Family Portrait (complete with a montage of Burke family photos), was recorded and produced in Chicago by Clarence Jr. With the addition of their three-year-old brother, the group became The Five Stairsteps & Cubie. Family Portrait yielded two hit singles, "Something's Missing" and a cover of Jimmy Charles and the Revelletts' hit "A Million to One." The group often toured with the Impressions. After signing with Buddah Records, the group was once again known as The Five Stairsteps.

In the spring of 1970, the group released their biggest hit, "O-o-h Child" (written by Stan Vincent), which hit number 14 R&B and number eight on the Billboard Hot 100. This disc sold over one million copies, and received a gold disc awarded by the R.I.A.A. on August 1970.[2] The flip side of the single, a cover of Lennon–McCartney's "Dear Prudence," charted at number 49 R&B. The following year, the group resurfaced as The Stairsteps with two charting Buddah singles: "Didn't It Look So Easy" and "I Love You-Stop." The group appeared in the 1970 movie The Isley Brothers Live At Yankee Stadium, a documentary of a benefit concert filmed at the famous home of the New York Yankees featuring The Isley Brothers, The Brooklyn Bridge and various other Buddah Records affiliated artists. In the early 1970s, the group was known simply as The Stairsteps. Alohe was still with the group. Cubie never really sang with the group, but would grow up to be a popular dancer with the Dance Theater of Harlem etc. Billy Preston introduced The Stairsteps to The Beatles, and the group signed with George Harrison's Dark Horse label distributed by A&M Records. Alohe left the group in 1972 to begin a spiritual journey, and later would attend college, graduate and work at Emory University at which she was also a guest speaker. An album, Second Resurrection, was released in February 1976, produced by Preston, Robert Margouleff, and the Stairsteps. "From Us to You," written by Clarence Jr. and Keni Burke, was the group's biggest hit since "Ooh Child," peaking at number ten R&B in early 1976. The follow-up single, "Pasado", also covered by the group Pockets, received airplay in Chicago, New York, and other markets. Keni sang, played bass, and wrote both songs on the third single, "Tell Me Why" b/w "Salaam." in January 2014, the album was reissued on cd in Europe by the Solaris label, as was Keni Burke's eponymous Dark Horse album.

Disbanded[edit]

After the Stairsteps disbanded, Keni remained with Dark Horse as a solo artist. His self-produced debut solo LP, Keni Burke, was released in August 1977. The singles were "Keep on Singing" and "From Me to You," an instrumental answer to "From Us to You." Becoming an in-demand session bass player, he can be heard on everyone from Sly & the Family Stone, Natalie Cole, Billy Preston, Les McCann, the Emotions, Raffi and The Four Tops to Redman, Terry Callier, Stargard, Curtis Mayfield, Bill Withers, Linda Clifford, Silk, Narada Michael Walden, Ramsey Lewis, Dusty Springfield, Diana Ross and Gladys Knight. He appeared as part of Bill Withers' band around this time and co-produced his album, Menagerie, which included the hit single "Lovely Day."

The Invisible Man's Band[edit]

In 1979, Keni teamed up with brothers Clarence, Jr. (who first had the idea to form a new group); James; and Dennis along with keyboardist/synth player Dean Gant to record an album under the moniker The Invisible Man's Band. Featured on this self-titled debut, released in 1980 by Mango/Island Records, was the heavily discofied hit "All Night Thing," which returned the Burke brothers to the top ten on the R&B chart. The tune also cracked the top 50 on the pop chart. Several other singles were released from this album throughout 1980, but they could not replicate the success of the first hit.

The following year, the band switched to the Boardwalk label to release a follow-up album, Really Wanna See You. While the title track and "Rated X" one of which Bassist Paris "Peewee" Ford (Rick James, BB&Q band, etc.) played bass on were released as singles, neither single made an impression on the charts, and the album was not nearly as successful as its predecessor.

While no further full-length albums were released under the "Invisible Man's Band" name, the group would later release one final single, "Sunday Afternoon", on the Move 'N Groove Record Label in 1983.

Keni Burke resumes solo work[edit]

Later in 1981, Burke got a new solo album deal with RCA Records. The self-produced LP You're the Best included the singles, "Let Somebody Love You" and the title track "You're the Best." His next RCA album, 1982's Changes, yielded his biggest solo hit, "Risin' to the Top," which peaked at number 63 R&B in late summer 1982. "Risin' to the Top" has been sampled by Doug E. Fresh ("Keep Risin' to the Top"), Mary J. Blige ("Love No Limit") and Ali ("Feelin' You.")

The second Changes single was "Shakin'." Changes is also notable because it includes one of the last songs by Philadelphia songwriter Linda Creed (co-written with Thom Bell), the mid-tempo ballad "One Minute More." Burke worked as a writer/producer (frequently with keyboardist Dean Gant and former Average White Band drummer Steve Ferrone) with The O'Jays, The Jones Girls, The Whispers, Keith Sweat, George Howard, Peabo Bryson, Bill Withers, and Perri, among others. After meeting Expansion Records executive Ralph Tee at a Berwick Soul Weekender, Burke signed with the Sony distributed UK label. Nothin' But Love was his first album for the label and was released in March 1998. The first 12" single was "I Need Your Love" with vocals by Burke's son, Osaze "Ozzie" Burke.

Later years[edit]

Alohe changed her name to Ramijimar S. Habeeb-Ullah in 1980 in Oneonta, New York. James M. is drawing and painting. Dennis has a recording studio in his home. Keni is still writing and producing others and also has begun touring, and Cubie is teaching dance. In 1982, Cubie released the 12-inch single, "Dance For Double" on the Rissa Chrissa label. Clarence N. Burke, Sr. (Papa Stairstep) is a property manager and recently appeared in a play of Driving Miss Daisy.

Clarence Burke, Jr. died on May 26, 2013 at his home in Marietta, Georgia. The cause of his death was not disclosed.[3] He was survived by his wife, Crystal, and five children.[4]

Discography[edit]

Albums[edit]

  • 1967: The Five Stairsteps (Windy City)
  • 1968: Our Family Portrait (Buddah)
  • 1969: Love's Happening (Curtom)
  • 1970: Step by Step by Step (Buddah)
  • 1970: Stairsteps (Buddah)
  • 1971: The Stairsteps (Buddah)
  • 1976: 2nd Resurrection (Dark Horse)

As the "Invisible Man's Band"[edit]

  • 1980: Invisible Man's Band (Island)
  • 1981: Really Wanna See You (Boardwalk)

Singles[edit]

Year Title Peak
(Pop Singles)
Peak
(R&B)
1966 You Waited Too Long 94 16
World of Fantasy 49 12
Come Back 61 15
1967 Danger! She's a Stranger 89 16
Ain't Gonna Rest (Till I Get You) 87 37
Oooh, Baby Baby 63 34
1968 Something's Missing 88 17
Don't Change Your Love 59 15
Baby Make Me Feel So Good 101 12
Stay Close to Me 91 -
1969 We Must Be in Love 88 17
1970 Because I Love You 83 -
O-o-h Child 8 14
Dear Prudence 66 49
1971 Didn't It Look So Easy 81 32
I Feel a Song in My Heart Again - -
1972 I Love You - Stop 115 40
1976 From Us to You 102 10
1980 All Night Thang
(as "The Invisible Man's Band")
45 9

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Pruter, Robert (1992). Chicago Soul. University of Illinois Press. p. 143. ISBN 0-252-06259-0. 
  2. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 279. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  3. ^ "Clarence Burke Jr. Dead: Five Stairsteps Singer Dies At 64". www.huffingtonpost.com. 2013-05-29. Retrieved 2013-05-31. 
  4. ^ "Five Stairsteps singer Clarence Burke Jr dies". BBC News. 2013-05-30. Retrieved 2013-05-31. 

External links[edit]