Today’s featured artists-The Five Stairsteps
The Five Stairsteps, known as “The First Family of Soul”, were an American Chicago soul group made up of five of Betty and Clarence Burke Sr.’s six children: Alohe Jean, Clarence Jr., James, Dennis, and Kenneth “Keni”, and briefly, Cubie. They are best known for the 1970 song “O-o-h Child”, listed at #402 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The Chicago group was dubbed “First Family of Soul” because of their successful five-year chart run; the moniker was later passed on to The Jackson 5. Initially a teenage five-member brothers and sister vocal group made up of the children of Betty and Clarence Burke, The Five Stairsteps, named by Mrs. Burke who thought her kids looked like stairsteps when lined up according to their age, featured lead singer Clarence Jr., Alohe, James, Dennis, and 13-year-old Kenneth (“Keni”). Most of the members attended Harlan High School. Clarence Sr. was a detective for the Chicago Police Department. He backed the group on bass guitar, managed them, and co-wrote songs with Clarence Jr. and Gregory Fowler.
After winning first prize in a talent contest at the Regal Theater, the Five Stairsteps received recording contract offers. A close neighbor and family friend was Fred Cash of The Impressions, who introduced the group to Curtis Mayfield. They signed to Mayfield’s Windy City imprint, which was distributed by the Philadelphia based Cameo Parkway record label, their first single was Gregory Fowler’s ballad “You Waited Too Long” b/w “Don’t Waste Your Time,” a Mayfield song. A double-sided hit in Chicago, the A-side, “You Waited Too Long,” charted number 16 in the Billboard R&B chart in spring of 1966. Around the end of 1967, Cameo-Parkway folded and Windy City switched to Buddah Records through former Cameo-Parkway executive Neil Bogart, who joined the new label as co-president. The group’s second album, Family Portrait (complete with a montage of Burke family photos), was recorded and produced in Chicago by Clarence Jr. With the addition of their three-year-old brother, the group became The Five Stairsteps & Cubie. Family Portrait yielded two hit singles, “Something’s Missing” and a cover of Jimmy Charles and the Revelletts’ hit “A Million to One.” The group often toured with the Impressions. After signing with Buddah Records, the group was once again known as The Five Stairsteps.