On April 26, Andrew Woolfolk of the legendary funk band Earth, Wind & Fire has passed away. The hall of fame saxophonist will be remembered for helping define disco as it became mainstream. He was 71 years old, having battled an illness for the last six years.
How He Joined The Band
Earth, Wind & Fire started in Chicago as a songwriting trio. Maurice White, Wade Flemons, and Don Whitehead were working on television commercials in 1969 when they scored a contract with Capitol records. The group continuously expanded in the early seventies and was starting to find success with college-aged listeners. Despite this, the group broke up after releasing a few albums.
However, White decided to start anew. He brought in a whole new band including Philip Bailey on vocals and Ronnie Laws on the saxophone. A chance opportunity to open for John Sebastian led to the band getting signed by Columbia Records. Their third record found success on the soul charts, and critics began paying attention.
In 1973, Laws decided to leave the band. Bailey recommended Woolfolk to replace him as they were high school classmates. Woolfolk was going to become a banker at the time, but his life changed when he joined the band. He made his Earth, Wind & Fire debut on their fourth record Head to the Sky, which would later be certified Platinum.
A Steadying Presence
Woolfolk would handle the sax, flute, and percussion duties from 1973 to 1984. The band went on hiatus for a while, then came back in the nineties with Woolfolk in tow. He left the group for good in 1993. You can hear him work on “September,” one of the finest recordings in existence.
Woolfolk also worked with Bailey on his solo records, and Phil Collins to name just a few.
Tributes Come Out
Woolfolk’s high school classmate turned lifelong colleague Bailey penned a lovely tribute to his friend on Instagram. In part, he wrote “He has Transitioned on to the forever, from this Land of the dying to the Land of the Living. Great memories. Great Talent. Funny. Competitive. Quick-witted. And always styling.”
Our condolences go out to Woolfolk’s friends and loved ones. He was always a fiercely private man, not wanting the public to know if he was married or had children. All the same, his catalog of work ensures his saxophone playing will live forever.