R.I.P. James Burke of The Five Stairsteps and The Invisible Man's Band

Photo courtesy of Keni Burke Facebook page

(February 22, 2021) They were known as the "First Family of Soul" during their run at the top of the charts, and the Chicago-based family act The Five Stairsteps have remained legendary more than five decades after they broke out. Tonight we are sad to inform SoulTrackers of the death of group member James Burke. The news was posted by his brother Keni Burke on Facebook today. No cause of death was given.

The children of Betty and Clarence Burke first made their mark as teenagers, with siblings Clarence Jr. (d. 2013), Alohe, James, Dennis, and Keni all being backed by their father, Clarence Sr., on guitar. After winning a local talent contest, they were signed by Curtis Mayfield to his label and had a hit in 1966 with “You Waited Too Long.”

(February 22, 2021) They were known as the "First Family of Soul" during their run at the top of the charts, and the Chicago-based family act The Five Stairsteps have remained legendary more than five decades after they broke out. Tonight we are sad to inform SoulTrackers of the death of group member James Burke. The news was posted by his brother Keni Burke on Facebook today. No cause of death was given.

The children of Betty and Clarence Burke first made their mark as teenagers, with siblings Clarence Jr. (d. 2013), Alohe, James, Dennis, and Keni all being backed by their father, Clarence Sr., on guitar. After winning a local talent contest, they were signed by Curtis Mayfield to his label and had a hit in 1966 with “You Waited Too Long.”

The Five Stairsteps continued to have moderate success over the next few years, but 1970 changed everything, as they shot to the top of the charts with the now classic ballad “O-o-h Child.” The single became their signature song and one of the biggest R&B hits of the year. Over the next few years, lack of consistent promotion left the Stairsteps unable to fully capitalize on the success of “O-o-h Child,” though they would continue to have middling charters.

The group took creative control in the mid-70s and landed a top ten hit with “From Us To You,” as brother Keni began to receive notice as a top tier bass guitarist and singer. The group disbanded in 1976, and Keni continued as a solo artist of some note.

However, the Burkes weren’t done. In 1978, Clarence, Jr., brought along Keni, James and Dennis, along with some other studio musicians, together to record as The Invisible Man’s Band, and they scored a smash disco hit with the fantastic “All Night Thing.” Again, following up a hit proved elusive, and the Invisible Man’s Band recorded with less success into the mid 80s before splitting for good.

Though it has been quite awhile since we heard music from James Burke, his place in music history is secure. The success of the Burke siblings paved the way for other notable musical families to come, from the Jackson Five to DeBarge. And James Burke was a key member of this all-time memorable group that created an all-time favorite slow jam. Rest in peace.

 

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