Woolfolk, a longtime Earth, Wind & Fire member whose sweet signature instrument made songs like “September” impossible not to dance to, has died, group member Philip Bailey announced. Woolfolk was 71.
Bailey, co-lead singer of the genre-spanning band, said on Instagram that Woolfolk died after a six-year illness.
“I met him in High School, and we quickly became friends and band mates,” Bailey wrote. “Great memories. Great talent. Funny. Competitive. Quick witted. And always styling.”
Woolfolk joined the band in the early 1970s, according to the band’s official roster. The EW&F lineup changed often throughout the years, but Woolfolk officially played the sax (as well as flute and percussion) with the group on and off until 1993.
But he hadn’t originally planned on joining 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 join the group after the two had played together in Denver. Woolfolk became known as one of the “original nine,” Bailey wrote.
When he toured with the band, Woolfolk would stop the concert cold with rip-roaring saxophone solos, commandeering the stage until the rest of his bandmates joined in. He wasn’t the group’s lead, but onstage, he possessed the unmistakable charisma of a star.
Offstage, Bailey wrote in his memoir, Woolfolk was a “jolly prankster” who “might fill your hotel room trash can with hot water and balance it atop your bedroom door, just waiting for you to return late at night.”
Aside from 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 his fellow original Earth, Wind & Fire members. That evening, Woollfolk, the only member of the group dressed in a fiery red suit jacket, performed a victorious solo on “Shining Star.”