Five Stairsteps

Formed in 1965 in Chicago, Illinois, The Five Stairsteps was a soul group best known for their 1970 hit “O-o-h Child”. Nicknamed the ‘First Family of Soul’, the vocal quintet featured five (of six) Burke siblings - Keni, Alohe Jean, Dennis, James, and Clarence Jr. - all of whom were still in their teens. Their father, Clarence Burke, Sr., was originally a detective for the Chicago Police Department, but focused his attention on managing his children, playing bass, and co-writing songs. After winning a talent show, they were eventually signed to Curtis Mayfield’s Windy City label, which was distributed by Cameo/Parkway. Their 1966 debut single, “You Waited Too Long”, reached Number 16 on Billboard’s R&B Singles chart and Number 94 in the Hot 100. After the release of their self-titled 1967 debut album, Cameo/Parkway shut down and Windy City’s distribution moved over to Buddah Records. The sixth Burke sibling – the non-singing three-year-old Cubie - was added to the line up and their 1968 album Our Family Portrait was released under the group name The Five Stairsteps & Cubie, as was 1969’s Love’s Happening. After the brief dalliance with little brother Cubie, The Five Stairsteps returned as a quintet with the 1970 album Stairsteps. The album included the single “O-o-h Child”, which was a massive hit, reaching Number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song’s B-side, a cover of The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence”, also landed in the Hot 100. However, the group was unable to maintain the success. After a 1970 compilation, Step by Step by Step, the group changed their name to The Stairsteps and released their self-titled album in 1971. Barely entering the Billboard 200 Albums chart (Number 199), the group’s future prospects were dim. Alohe Jean departed the Stairsteps to pursue spiritual interests and the band languished in obscurity for years. Legendary keyboardist Billy Preston guided the group towards former Beatles member George Harrison, who signed them to his Dark Horse Records label. They released the album Second Resurrection in 1976, but it failed to turn things around for the group and they disbanded. Keni Burke pursued a solo career while Clarence, Jr. formed a new group called The Invisible Man’s Band, recruiting Keni, James, and Dennis to join this disco-oriented project. The single “All Night Thing” (1980) reached Number 9 on the R&B Singles chart, but the group was unable to follow that up with another hit and split up. Keni Burke continued with a moderately successful solo career. Clarence Burke, Jr. died on May 26, 2013. Cubie Burke’s death followed almost exactly a year later on May 14, 2014. The group’s father (and manager) Clarence Burke, Sr. died on July 16, 2020. James Burke passed away on February 19, 2021.

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Stations Featuring Five Stairsteps

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