Earth, Wind & Fire Members You May Not Know Have Died

Earth, Wind & Fire is one of those rare groups where, whether someone considers them to be a favorite or not, they'd have to admit that it's still hard to keep their feet from tapping if they're sitting somewhere and "September" starts playing. Earth, Wind & Fire (EW&F) fused multiple genres that typically divided listeners — like jazz, R&B, rock, and funk — then threw them in a blender that appealed to a huge portion of the population.

"I wanted to do something that hadn't been done before," explained the band's founder, Maurice White, on their website. "Although we were basically jazz musicians, we played soul, funk, gospel, blues, jazz, rock and dance music ... which somehow ended up becoming pop."

This was done in the 1970s a time when pop music was a means through which Black and White America found common musical ground. "We were coming out of a decade of experimentation, mind expansion and cosmic awareness. I wanted our music to convey messages of universal love and harmony without force-feeding listeners' spiritual content," White said. Unfortunately, even the most influential and popular bands aren't immune to the effects of time, and over their lengthy career, several members of EW&F have died over the years, including White himself.

Wade Flemons

Wade Flemons made a name for himself as a singer. In the late 1950s, he was signed to R&B record label Vee-Jay and started a band called the Newcomers. According to AllMusic, they were billed as Wade Flemons & the Newcomers and their debut single managed to crack the top 20 of the R&B charts.

Wade Flemons handled electric piano and vocal duties for EW&F from the beginning, and technically even before that. According to Heavy, before EW&F, Maurice White started another band, of which Flemons was one of the original members. It was called the Salty Peppers, and it didn't last long before White moved on to a new project that became his most well-known. One of the first people he asked to come aboard was Flemons.

While he was part of EW&F early in their existence, he was also out of the band early in their existence. Flemons performed and wrote music for the band's first two albums. He was out of the band by 1972, according to the band's website, at which point White fired everyone except his brother, Verdine. Flemons died in 1993 after battling cancer.

Louis Satterfield

Louis Satterfield was a trombonist who was part of the Phenix Horns, a group of brass players that White hired to join the band. They quickly became a huge part of the band's sound, according to the Earth, Wind & Fire website. In addition to being a phenomenal trombone player, Satterfield was also a highly respected bass player.

According to his obituary on Find a Grave, Satterfield was a frequent session musician at Chess studios in Chicago. That happened to be where Maurice White went to record demos for his band that would soon become Earth, Wind & Fire, and Satterfield played on the demos, meaning he can be heard on some of the band's earliest recordings.

In the 1990s, Satterfield was engaged in a court battle with Phil Collins over royalties he was allegedly owed from an appearance on one of Collins' live albums. Satterfield died in Chicago in 2004. He was 67 years old at the time.

Roland Bautista

Roland Bautista played guitar for EW&F, and actually had more than one stint with the band. He joined in 1972, firing the mass-firing of the previous line-up, per EW&F's official website. Bautista's ax-wielding abilities can be heard on the band's 1971 album "Last Days and Time," but his original tenure was short. He left the band soon after the album debuted and went on to record a pair of solo albums for ABC Records in the 1970s: "Bautista" (1977) and "The Heat of the Wind" (1978) (per Soul Tracks).

During his time away from EW&F, Bautista lent his abilities to other acts, playing for the likes of Jackson 5, the Crusaders, Randy Crawford, George Duke, and Tom Waits. He rejoined EW&F in 1981 and played on three consecutive studio albums, but this tenure ended in 1983 when the entire band went on hiatus. According to Heavy, Bautista died in 2012 at age 60.

Maurice White

By just about all accounts, Maurice White was Earth, Wind & Fire. According to Heavy, White is usually considered to be the creative force that propelled the band, and their sound, performances, and image were his artistic vision. He led the way and was part of the band for most of its existence, helping to get EW&F enshrined in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

According to the band's official website, the '70s lineup of EW&F reunited to play at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2000. As the years pressed on, White's presence on stage diminished, but he remained hard at work off-stage, where he continued to write and produce the band's music.

According to Billboard, White was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in the 1990s, and he stopped touring in the middle part of the decade. He died at 74 years old on February 4, 2016.

Andrew Woolfolk

In 2022, the band lost another member of the band. This time it was saxophonist Andrew Woolfolk. The Denver, Colorado native was a member of the band from 1973 to 1985, and again from 1987 to 1993. According to USA Today, Woolfolk can be heard playing sax on EW&F hits like "September" and "Boogie Wonderland."

Outside of Earth, Wind & Fire duties, Woolfolk was a sought-after session player, and throughout his career, he worked alongside the likes of Phil Collins and Deniece Williams. The musician's death was announced on Instagram by Earth, Wind & Fire lead vocalist Philip Bailey on April 25, 2022. According to Bailey's post, Woolfolk had been battling an illness for several years before his death, though there was no elaboration on what that illness was. "Great memories. Great Talent. Funny. Competitive. Quick witted. And always styling. Booski ... I'll see you on the other side, my friend," Bailey wrote of his late bandmate.

Fred White

On January 2, 2023, Verdine White took to his Instagram account to announce the death of drummer Fred "Freddie" White. The younger half-brother of founding member Maurice White, Fred was lauded as a child prodigy who was gigging out with various groups starting at the tender age of 13 (per The New York Times). According to NPR, Fred even performed with Donny Hathaway.

In the early-1970s, Fred joined the ranks of Earth, Wind & Fire. He was initially one of two drummers until the band suspended dual drummers, designating Fred as the only one at a drumset. According to The New York Times, he played on many of the band's early hits, including: "September," "Boogie Wonderland," and "Let's Groove." NPR described his drumming style as "tight and energetic." He left Earth, Wind & Fire in the early-1980s but continued to perform with other groups.

Fred was 67 at the time of his death.