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James Burke, Five Stairsteps Singer Dead at 70

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James Burke, a lead singer of the Chicago soul group The Five Stairsteps, died of pneumonia on February 19th.

What We Know:

  • Dennis Burke, brother, and bandmate of James told Rolling Stone that James died of pneumonia unrelated to COVID-19. Burke was only 70-years-old when he passed. Dennis says his brother was a very creative person. He was skilled in guitar, songwriting, singing, and even painting.
  • The Five Stairsteps are responsible for the 1970’s classic hit “O-o-h Child”. The family band consisted of four sons and one daughter. Clarence Jr., James, Dennis, Keni, and Alohe became the “First Family of Soul” after being formed and managed by their father Clarence Burke Sr. The family’s mother Betty, chose the name for the band when she said they looked like a staircase when they lined up by age and height. The group garnered local acclaim after winning a talent show at Chicago’s Regal Theater.
  • Some may think Five Stairsteps were one-hit wonders but their singles were constantly high on the Billboard R&B charts. “O-o-h Child” peaked at #8 on Billboard Hot 100 in 1970. Rolling Stone named the song one of the top 500 greatest songs of all time. Also, in 1976 their song “From Us to You” garnered another Top 10 win.
  • The Five Stairsteps disbanded in 1981 but that was not the end of the family’s musical legacy. Clarence Jr., James, Keni, and Dennis formed the Invisible Man’s Band, and their debut single “All Night Thing” hit number 10 on the R&B charts. After The Invisible Man’s Band split up, James settled into a quiet, art-filled life. Dennis says James continued to play guitar and create art.

Burke leaves behind a legacy of soul music and art.

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