The Five Stairsteps was formed in Chicago in 1965 and comprised of Burke family members
Kenneth, James, Aloha, Dennis and Clarence Jr. They got their name, when
"Momma Stairsteps" as Betty Burke was affectionately called, noticed
that her kids looked like stair steps when stood next to each other
according to age.
Close friend and neighbor Fred Cash of The Impressions,
took Keni and the guys to see Curtis Mayfield. Shortly they were signed to the Windy C
Records imprint Curtis had with Buddah Records.
They later switched to Mayfield's Curtom Records.
The young quintet enjoyed a consistent run of R&B chart success, with releases on the Windy
City, Curtom and Buddah labels. The albums were: "The Five Stairsteps"
(Windy C 1967), "Our Family Portrait" (Buddah 1967), "Love's Happening"
(Curtom 1968), "Step By Step By Step" (Buddah 1970) and "The Stairsteps"
(Buddah 1970). The material ranged from gentle dance songs to orchestrated
ballads and their talent was recognized in 1967 with a NATRA award as that year's outstanding R&B group.
For two years the group's name was expanded to The Five Stairsteps & Cubie to include five-year-old sibling
Cubie, but when the newcomer left in 1969, the line-up reverted to The
Five Stairsteps. Later, when sister Aloha got married and left the group,
they dropped the "5" altogether. They had their biggest hit in
"O-o-h Child", a US Top 10 entry and a signature song of
the early 70's.
Instrumentally self-contained, the quintet pursued a direction similar to Sly And The Family Stone, but they were unable to capitalize on this new-found position. The group broke up in 1972,
Jnr. and Kenneth became session musicians.
In 1976 the duo resumed work with brothers Dennis and James, now calling
themselves just Stairsteps, securing a contract with George Harrison 's Dark Horse label. It was
singer Billy Preston who introduced them to The Beatles and helped them
get the Dark Horse deal. They released the album "2nd
Resurrection" produced by Billy Preston and Robert Margouleff. Although
The Stairsteps returned to the soul Top 10 with the single "From Us To You",
written by Keni and Clarence Jnr., they split up again soon afterwards.
are several CD compilations available, but the 17 track "The First Family
of Soul: The Best of the Five Stairsteps" (2001) from the reincarnated Buddah
label is by far the best. Included are most of the groups' higher-charting
singles anchored by the passionate and uplifting "O-o-h Child", but what
makes this collection special is that many of the old Windy C recordings
appear in stereo for the first time. The sonic improvement is substantial
and breathes new life into these tracks that have been available only in
somewhat lifeless mono versions. All tracks but one are presented in
crystalline stereo. A six-page liner notes booklet provides a musical
background of the group along with track info. If you're a fan and already
own a Five Stairsteps compilation CD, the sonic improvements alone make
this a worthwhile replacement or addition.
Clarence Jnr. subsequently formed the Invisible Man's Band, who recorded two albums,
"The Invisible Man's Band" (Mango/Island Records 1980) - scoring a sizable hit seller with "All Night
Thing" - and "Really Wanna See You" (Boardwalk 1981). The group again
split up and Kenneth, latterly known as Keni Burke, enjoyed a successful career as a solo artist and producer.