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The Five Stairsteps

The Five Stairsteps were "The First Family of Soul" -- a title bestowed upon the Chicago-based teenaged group in part because of their astounding five-year run of hits, which included the million-selling "O-o-h Child" and eight other singles that, from 1996 through 1970, reached the Top 20 of Billboard's R&B chart. The Jackson 5 took the title, but the Stairsteps continued to record through 1976, and the group's members continued to be successful as artists, songwriters, and producers long after their reign.

The children of Clarence Sr. and Betty Burke, the Five Stairsteps were formed in 1958 as a five-member brother-and-sister teenaged vocal group. The group got its name when "Momma Stairsteps" -- as Betty Burke was affectionately called -- noticed that her kids looked like stair steps when stood next to each other by age. Clarence Jr., the eldest son, was the group's lead singer, choreographer, principal songwriter, and guitarist. Alohe, a contralto vocalist, also played trumpet in her school's concert orchestra. First tenor James sang lead on the group's Top 40 R&B hit "Oooh Baby, Baby"; he also played guitar and was a skilled line artist who won three scholarships to the Art Institute of Chicago and won an Artist of the Year Award from the Chicago Board of Education. Second tenor Kenneth was a talented bass player. Clarence Sr., a detective for the Chicago Police Department, played bass guitar, oversaw the group's material, and was their manager. He backed the group on bass and co-wrote songs with Clarence Jr. and Gregory Fowler.

After they won first prize in a talent contest at the legendary Regal Theater, the Five Stairsteps were deluged with recording contract offers. Neighbor and family friend Fred Cash of the Impressions introduced the group to Curtis Mayfield. Signing with Mayfield's Windy C label, distributed by Philadelphia-based Cameo Parkway, their first single was the upbeat "Don't Waste Your Time," a Mayfield song, backed with the Clarence Jr.-written ballad "You Waited Too Long." A double-sided hit in Chicago, the B-side peaked at number 16 on Billboard's R&B chart in the spring of 1966. More hits followed: the soft, lilting "World of Fantasy" b/w "Playgirl's Love," the "blue light in the basement" ballad "Come Back" b/w "You Don't Love Me," and the slinky, exotic "Danger! She's a Stranger" b/w "Behind Curtains." Most of the singles were on the LP The Five Stairsteps, released in 1967.

Around the end of 1967, Cameo Parkway folded and Windy C switched to Art Kass' New York-based Buddah Records through former Cameo Parkway executive Neil Bogart, who joined the new label as co-president. The group's second album, Our Family Portrait, was recorded and produced in Chicago by Clarence Jr. With the addition of their three-year-old brother, the group temporarily went by the Five Stairsteps & Cubie. Our Family Portrait yielded the singles "Something's Missing," a cover of Jimmy Charles & the Revellettes' 1960 R&B/pop hit "A Million to One," and "The Shadow of Your Love." Switching to Mayfield's Curtom Records, they continued to chart with "Don't Change Your Love," "Baby Make Me Feel So Good," "Madame Mary," and the midtempo groover "We Must Be in Love." The group often toured with the Impressions.

After signing with Buddah, the group was once again known as the Five Stairsteps. In the spring of 1970, the group released its sole certified million-seller and biggest pop hit, "O-o-h Child" (written by Stan Vincent), which hit number 14 R&B and number eight pop. The flip side, a cover of John Lennon and Paul McCartney's "Dear Prudence," charted 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 Soul to Soul (a documentary of a benefit concert filmed at New York's Yankee Stadium) and on the nationally syndicated show Soul. During the early '70s, sister Alohe married and both she and Cubie left the group. Kenneth played bass on records and tours of Billy Preston, who later introduced the Stairsteps to the Beatles, and the group signed with George Harrison's A&M-distributed Dark Horse label. 2nd Resurrection was issued in February 1976, produced by Billy Preston, Robert Margouleff, and the Stairsteps. "From Us to You," written by Clarence Jr. and Kenneth Burke, was the group's biggest hit since "O-o-h Child," peaking at number ten R&B in early 1976.

Four members of the Stairsteps, along with keyboardist Dean Gant, later formed the Invisible Man's Band. Their Mango single "All Night Thing" hit number nine R&B in the spring of 1980. One of the members was Kenneth, aka Keni, who had become a top session bassist and occasional songwriter, producer, and recording artist. In addition to his role in the Invisible Man's Band, he worked with Mayfield, Bill Withers, the O'Jays, the Jones Girls, and Keith Sweat, among others. Clarence Jr. died in 2013. Cubie, who released a solo single in 1982, died in 2014. ~ Ed Hogan
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Barry Williams Presents: 70s Music Explosion

Disc 1
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Disc 3
Disc 4
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Track List: Cameo Parkway (1957-1967)

Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3
Disc 4

Comments

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javier.javi. g u t i e r r e z
"I'm distracting you, you big turd-blossom . "
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yes we love the Five Stairsteps.T h e y are truly unsung
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I really wish they would do an Unsung episode on them. As much as I love the J5, these guys were before them and the bomb. Products of Curtis Mayfield.
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where have you gone now...off with someone new.....beau t i f u l harmonies
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I got turned on to this song at a very young age when it was used in the movie Over The Edge.
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artist685
I love this song! I used to sing this song to my son when he was a toddler and when this song came on the radio, my lil boy asked if it was me on the radio. How cools that! O-O-H Child.
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i love reading all your stories and a little envious you were able 2 have those kind of memories ... oldies live for ever
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Fantasy is unreal..
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Sometimes we all need a world of fantasy
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I grew up down the street from them in Chicago.they lived on 99th & king drive. I remember playing with Cubie., we were about 6yrs old..
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I remember being young dancing slow to this jam yes at Bronxriver in the 60. Those were the days
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The Five Stairsteps sang their hearts out to the world
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So nice ♥ this song
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Haven't heard this song in a long time. Always loved this family of singer's
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Wow! I remember my sisters and their friends listening to this kind of music. They would pay me nickels and dimes to sing.
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THEY WERE ONE OF THE TOP SINGERS
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Unsung...but not forgotten
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THIS A JAM
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BOY TODAY MUST BE MY DAY THE MUSIC IS GREAT ANOTHER FAVORITE SONG OF MINE
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I have nothing but love for the Stairsteps.
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UNSUNG
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so wonderful to hear the five stairsteps again....kee p this music alive
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We when on before them at west. Kinny.st.sch o o l in newark
N.j RASHON IBN ALMUHYI
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Another OG CURTIS production
T F S great group OG sound. 3m 14y
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:(
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Robyn I LOVE this. Music
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Always on my mind.
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It's talent, all groups had soul but did not sound exactly alike.
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Sing it Man these songs are so nice makes me want to party.
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deadartist1
The Five Stairsteps out of Chi-town were discovered by Curtis Mayfield. Wonderful group. Originally 4 brothers and sister Aloha. Lead singer Clarence Burke recently passed away. RIP
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I grew up in Chicago. My family would throw "sets" and parties and then as the night went on they would put the "Dusties" on. You would slow dance with your girl all night.....
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I just love the way they put a song together, thats when music was music
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letsduetagai n
This group had the best harmonies ever, even to this day. They were very very professional and just all aronnd talented. I am so blessed to have seen them perform. They just don't make music like that anymore.
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One of favorite. I have something I will dedicate to them in the near future.
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My sincere condolences to Mr. Burke.
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Love me some five stair steps. Hated it when the jackson five came in.
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Love this group.
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Well, last I heard of the lead singer, Clarence Bauer, he sometime does small gizz with the South Orange Studios Producer, Mr. Scott.
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Love the five staistepts would like 2 know were they r today.
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This group is from Chicago's South side..There were 5 or six boys and 1 sister, Aloha. The bass guitarist and writer of the group was Greg Fowler, my 1st cousin. Would love to know where they all are now.
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corliss53
Was a card-carryin g , active member of fan club late 60's. early 70's I hear Clarence Burke recently performed in NYC. We do need a bio.
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this is chicano oldies at it's best.
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We were getting our grind on to these cats back in the day. Word!
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wow brings back so many memories
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The bassist for the group is Kenny Burke, and he branched off to be the Invisible Man's Band. Remember the song 'All Night Thang', then Kenny did a song later called, 'Keep Rising to the Top'. He is sampled widely by a number of rap artist. Last I heard he was in NYC or the ATL. Peace
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this is old school music and its the best.
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This is a song I remember and liked even when it was new. It is not in the vein of the Tempts or Impressions. Maybe some of the Miracles stuff but that is a bit of a stretch too.
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had such a crush on them as a teenager but I was in a "World of Fantasy"
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I never heard of them...but love them...found them on The Bells radio station...
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i so love this group - captures my teenage agnst & joy - i wish they would do some thing now or tour
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