The Five Stairsteps

The Five Stairsteps

    They were known as the “First Family of Soul,” and, while they never achieved the acclaim as the next First Family of Soul, The Jacksons, The Five Stairsteps made an indelible mark on the music world.

    The children of Chicago police detective Clarence Burke, Sr. and his wife Betty, The Five Stairsteps (named by Betty because of their varying heights when standing together, like stairsteps) consisted of teenage boys Clarence Jr, James, Denis and Keni, as well as sister Alohe, usually backed by Clarence Sr on bass guitar.

    After creating buzz in the Chicago area, they were signed by Curtis Mayfield to his label, and they released a number of moderate hit songs, the biggest of which was 1966’s “You Waited Too Long.” Stardom eluded the talented group until 1970, when they released the Stan Vincent composition, “Ooh Child.” It became an instant classic, shooting all the way to #1 and turning the Five Stairsteps into the hot young soul groupl

    While they had another charter with a cover of “Dear Prudence,” the Stairsteps (they dropped the “Five” when Alohe left in 1972) went a half decade before hitting the top 10 again with “From Us To You” from their Second Resurrection album.

    By 1977, the group had disbanded, but they weren’t quite done yet. Clarence Jr formed the disco band The Invisible Man’s Band, and recruited his brothers to join him. The result was a huge dance hit, 1978’s “All Night Thing.”

    While all of the siblings were talented musicians, brother Keni Burke developed as a legendary bass guitarist, both establishing a solo career (his “Risin To the Top” is one of the most sampled songs ever) and becoming a sought after studio musician. Over the next two decades he worked with virtually every major R&B act.

    By Chris Rizik