Five Stairsteps and Cuby, The
Band members Related acts
- Alohe Jean Burke (aka Ramijimar S. Habeeb-Ullah) --
- Betty Burke -- vocals (1966-68)
- Clarence Jr. Burke -- vocals (1966-72)
- Clarence Sr. Burke -- vocals, bass (1966-68)
- Dennis Burke -- vocals (1966-72)
- James Burke -- vocals (1966-72)
- Kenneth (Keni Burke) Burke -- vocals, bass (1966-72)
- Keni Burke (solo efforts)
- The Invisible Man's Band (Clarence Burke)
- The Stairsteps
Rating: 3 stars ***
Title: Our Family Portrait
Catalog: BDS 5008
Country/State: Chicago, Illinois
Grade (cover/record): VG / VG
Comments: gatefold sleeve
GEMM catalog ID: 5233
You can make a pretty strong argument that The Burke family were every but as talented as the better known Jackson clan (and in spite of some quirkiness, not nearly as bizarre as the latter).
Without wanting to sound snotty, their story sounds like a book and a movie of the week waiting to happen. Living in Chicago, by the late-1950s Betty and Clarence Burke were the proud parents of five young children - Alohe, Clarence Jr., Dennis, James, and Kenneth (several years later younger sibling Cubie was briefly a member of the group). The kids were apparently all musically talented and the under their father's guidance the Burke's began performing locally as 'The Five Stairsteps' (the name reportedly inspired by the differences in physical heigths (they looked like stair steps when lined up). A Chicago detective, father Clarence Sr. served as group manager, bass player, and was originally responsible for the majority of their material. Winning a local Chicago talent contest brought the family to the attention of Impressions member Fred Cash, who subsequently turned Curtis Mayfield on to them.
Mayfield quickly signed the group to his Cameo/Parkway affiliated Windy City label. They made their debut with the 1966 45 'You Waited Too Long' b/w 'Don't Waste Your Time' (Windy City catalog number ). A top-20 R&B hit, it was followed by a series of xx singles:
- 'World of Fantasy' b/w 'Playgirl's Love' (Windy City catalog number WC 602-A/B)
- 'Come Back' b/w 'You Don't Love Me' (Windy City catalog number WC 603-A/B)
- 'Danger! She's a Stranger' b/w 'Behind Curtains' (Windy City catalog number )
With Cameo/Parkway's collapse the group found themselves aligned with Buddah Records where they debuted with
Produced by Clarence Sr., their sophomore release for Buddah "Our Family Portrait" wasn't bad - certainly impressive for a line up that was 18, 17, 16, 15, 14 and 2 1/2 years old (not sure how old mom and dad were). If nothing else you had to give the Burke's credit for truth in advertising - literally gave every family member was given an opportunity to enjoy the spotlight. Yes, mom, dad and even Cuby got to sing. Mom and dad weren't bad in an MOR way ('Windows On the World' and 'I Remember You' respectively). As for Cuby - though meant to be cute ''The New Dance Craze' was simply painful. Luckily, in spite of occasional rough spots the rest of the kids were far better. In fact I'd argue that the set's occasional rough spots added to the overall charm. The curious thing about the album was its weird split personality. It may have been recorded in 1968, but about half of the album sounded like something from the late-1950s/early-1960s. Awash in waves of strings and MOR material, dad's musical tastes and influence were on display on stuff like 'A Million To One' and 'Under the Spell of Your Love'. Another complaint - maybe just a personal hang up, but there's always been something that struck me as creepy hearing kids sing adult-oriented songs like ''The Look of Love. At the other end of the spectrum material written by Clarence Jr. (dad was billed a co-writer) like 'Something's Missing', 'Bad News' and 'Tell Me Who' had a far more modern and sophisticated sound. Again, maybe it was just my ears, but there was a distinctive Curtis Mayfield influence on several of the performances (which was a good thing). Elsewhere the album spun off a series of singles via:
- 1968's 'Something's Missing' b/w 'Tell Me Who' (Buddah catalog number BDA-20)
- 1968's 'A Million To One' b/w 'You Make Me So Mad' (Buddah BDA-28)
- 1968's 'The Shadow of Your Love' b/w 'Bad News' (Buddah catalog number BDA-35)
Family Portrait" track listing:
1.) A Million To One (Phil Medley) - 2:15
2.) You Make Me So Mad (Clarence Burke Jr. - Clarence Burke Sr.) - 2:07
3.) Something's Missing (Clarence Burke Jr. - Clarence Burke Sr.) - 2:45
4.) The Look of Love (Burt Bacharach - Hal David) - 3:01
5.) The New Dance Craze (Leonard Brown) - 3:00
6.) Windows of the World (Burt Bacharach - Hal David) - 3:15
2.) Tell Me Who (Clarence Burke Jr. - Clarence Burke Sr.) - 2:55
3.) Under the Spell of Your Love (Clarence Burke Jr. - Clarence Burke Sr.) - 2:10
4.) Find Me (Terry Knight) - 2:35)
5.) I Remember You (Abner Spector - Don Marcotti) - 3:00
I'm not sure where this television clip came from (the YouTube blurb has limited info), but it's clearly a live performance and reflects the group after they shorted their name to 'The Stairsteps':
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Switching to Mayfield's Curtom Records, they continued to chart with "Don't Change Your Love" b/w "New Dance Craze," "Baby Make Me Feel So Good," "Madame Mary," and the mid-tempo groover "We Must Be in Love." The group often toured with the Impressions. Signing with Buddah Records, the group was once again known as the Five Stairsteps. In the spring of 1970, the group released their sole certified million-seller and biggest pop hit, "O-o-h Child" (written by Stan Vincent), which hit number 14 R&B and number eight pop. The flip side, a cover of John Lennon and Paul McCartney's "Dear Prudence," charted number 49 R&B.
The following year, the group resurfaced as the Stairsteps with two charting Buddah singles: "Didn't It Look So Easy" and "I Love You-Stop." The group appeared in the 1970 movie Soul to Soul, a documentary of a benefit concert filmed at New York's Yankee Stadium and on the NY-produced nationally syndicated show Soul. During the early '70s, sister Alohe married and both she and Cubie left the group. Kenneth played bass on records and tours of Billy Preston, who later introduced the Stairsteps to the Beatles and the group signed with George Harrison's Dark Horse label distributed by A&M Records. 2nd Resurrection was issued in February 1976, produced by Billy Preston, Robert Margouleff, and the Stairsteps. "From Us to You," written by Clarence Jr. and Kenneth Burke, was the group's biggest hit since "O-o-h Child," peaking at number ten R&B in early 1976 (b/w "Time").
Kenneth Burke became Keni Burke, a top session bassist, co-writing with Allan Felder the inspiring "Risin' to the Top," which was on his 1982 RCA LP Changes and later was the source of numerous rap/hip-hop hits including Mary J. Blige's "Love No Limit" and Doug E Fresh's "Keep Risin' to the Top." He also carved out an impressive career as a producer. He can be heard on Bill Withers' Greatest Hits, Lose Control by Silk, People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Story, Best of My Love: The Best of the Emotions Keep It Comin' by Keith Sweat, Radio Raffi by Raffi, Ecstasy's Dance: The Best of Narada Michael Walden, Steppin' Out by George Howard, Happy Love by Natalie Cole, D.J. Rogers (Love Music & Life, RCA 1977), Billy Preston, the 1999 Music Club CD, Classic Philadelphia Years, and the Jones Girls' Keep It Comin' and his 1998 Expansion/Sony/3MW CD Nothin' but Love. The Stairsteps evolved into the Invisible Man's Band and their Mango single "All Night Thing" hit number nine R&B in spring 1980.
MORE ON THE FIVE STAIRSTEPS ...
By Charles Duke
In the spring of 1970, the group released their sole certified million-seller and biggest pop hit, Ooh Child (written by Stan Vincent), which hit number 14 R&B and number eight pop. The falsetto bridge and ending ad-libs of the song are sung by the Stairsteps' cousin, Charles "Chaz" Simmons. The flip side of the single, a cover of the Beatles Lennon/McCartney's Dear Prudence, charted number 49 R&B. The following year, the group resurfaced as the Stairsteps with two charting Buddah singles: Didn't It Look So Easy and I Love You-Stop. The group appeared in the 1970 movie The Isley Brothers Live At Yankee Stadium, a documentary of a benefit concert filmed at the famous home of the New York Yankees featuring The Isley Brothers, the Brooklyn Bridge and various other Buddah Records-affiliated artists. In the early '70s, the group was known as Stairsteps. Alohe was still with the group. Cubie never really sang with the group, but would grow up to be a popular dancer with the Dance Theater of Harlem etc. Billy Preston introduced the Stairsteps to the Beatles, and the group signed with George Harrison's Dark Horse label distributed by A&M Records. Alohe left the group in 1972 to begin a spiritual journey, and later would attend college, graduate and work at Emory University. She also was a guest speaker there. An album, 'Second Resurrection', was released in February 1976, produced by Preston, Robert Margouleff, and the Stairsteps. From Us to You, written by Clarence Jr. and Keni Burke, was the group's biggest hit since Ooh Child, peaking at number ten R&B in early 1976. The follow-up single, Passado, also covered by the group Pockets, received airplay in Chicago, New York, and other markets. Keni sang, played bass, and wrote both songs on the third single, "Tell Me Why" b/w "Salaam." They made two additional albums under the moniker The Invisible Man's Band, scoring with the disco hit, All Night Thang, which reached number 9 on the charts, before disbanding. It is reported they used the new name to not offend their loyal fans who had not associated the Stairsteps with disco.