Woolfolk, a longtime Earth, Wind & Fire member whose sweet signature instrument made songs like “September” impossible not to dance to, is dead, group member Philip Bailey announced. Woolfolk turned 71.
Bailey, co-lead of the genre-spanning band, said on Instagram that Woolfolk died after six years of illness.
“I met him in high school and we quickly became friends and bandmates,” Bailey wrote. “Fantastic memories. Great talent. Fun. Competitive. Fast. And always styling.”
Woolfolk joined the band in the early 1970s, according to the band’s official list. The EW&F lineup often changed over the years, but Woolfolk officially played saxophone (as well as flute and percussion) with the group to and from until 1993.
But he had not originally planned to join the band – as Bailey describes in the 2014 memoir “Shining Star: Braving the Elements of Earth, Wind & Fire”, Woolfolk was studying music in New York when Bailey called him and asked him to to join the group after the two played together in Denver. Woolfolk became known as one of the “original nine,” Bailey wrote.
As he toured with the band, Woolfolk stopped the concert cold with roaring saxophone solos and came across the stage until the rest of his bandmates joined. He was not the main character of the group, but on stage he possessed the unmistakable charisma of a star.
Off the stage, Bailey wrote in his memoirs, Woolfolk was a “jolly prankster” who “might fill your hotel room’s trash can with hot water and balance it on top of your bedroom door, and just wait for you to return late at night.”
In addition to EW&F albums, Woolfolk also recorded with Phil Collins and Bailey for the latter’s solo efforts.
In 2000, Woolfolk was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame along with its original Earth, Wind & Fire members. That night, Woollfolk, the only member of the group dressed in a fiery red suit, performed a victorious solo on “Shining Star.”