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Earth, Wind & Fire Becomes the First Black Group to Be Inducted Into the Kennedy Center Honors

Dec. 8, 2019, marked a special day for the legendary band Earth, Wind & Fire, because that’s when they became the first Black group to be inducted into the Kennedy Center Honors.

Their tribute will be televised Dec. 15 on CBS, where viewers will get to see original members Verdine White, Ralph Johnson and Philip Bailey accept the honor.

Surviving band members (from left) Verdine White, Ralph Johnson and Philip Bailey are fêted on Dec. 8 at the Kennedy Center in Washington as Earth, Wind & Fire becomes the first Black music group to be inducted into the Kennedy Center Honors. (Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images)

Maurice White, the founder of Earth, Wind & Fire and who many may consider the face of the group, passed away from causes related to Parkinson’s disease in 2016.

During Sunday’s ceremony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, artists like John Legend, Ne-Yo and Cynthia Erivo performed some of the group’s hits, and LL Cool J, who received the honor in 2017 as the first hip-hop act, served as the emcee.

Bailey spoke about being the first Black group inducted into the Kennedy Center Honors and said he hopes it’s the start of others getting in.

“There are so many more African-American acts that are deserving, and perhaps this can be the first of many more to come,” he told Billboard.

Next summer will mark 50 years of Earth, Wind & Fire being a group, and they hinted at a duets album coming around that time that’ll feature other artists. But they didn’t reveal who those musicians would be.

“We’re making a list and checking it twice,” said Bailey. “And you’ll hear about it soon.” 

The group also spoke about Maurice White and said their chemistry has always been so strong because he handpicked everyone. And his brother Verdine said although his older sibling is gone, he’s constantly felt and honored through the music.

“You can’t play any Earth Wind & Fire songs without Maurice’s DNA being on it,” he explained. “So he’s always here and we’re always celebrating him and his vision. People are still coming together and having fun.”

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