The Five Stairsteps – The First Family of Soul

The Five Stairsteps & Cubie
The Five Stairsteps & Cubie


I was catching up on the television series “Empire” last night and one of the lines was “The first family of Hip Hop,” and it got me thinking, who was the first family of soul music? Was it the Isley Brothers? It could have been, after all they have been around since the 50s. There were four actual brothers and a cousin. They officially started recording popular music in 1957. How about the Jackson Five? As the name states there were five of them, but they formed in 1963.

Well it turns out that the original first family of soul was the Five Stairsteps.  Some say they were formed in 1958, others put their formation at 1967, and there were actually six of them for a short period. The majority of sources places their starting around 1958, but that is not what made them the “first family.”  So what made them the first family of Soul? I will get to that shortly. In the mean time who were the Five Stairsteps?

The Five Stairsteps were the children of a Chicago couple, Clarence Sr. and Betty. The group consisted of Alohe Jean, Clarence Jr., James, Dennis and Kenneth, aka Keni.  The sixth child was Cubie, but he was only in the group for a short while. They got the name the Five Stairsteps from their mother who said that when they stood in line according to age, they looked like Stairsteps.

After winning a Talent Contest in the Chicago area, they were signed to Curtis Mayfield's record label “Windy City”.  They were introduced to Mayfield by a neighbour,  Fred Cash who was a member of the Impressions a band that Mayfield was also a member. When the major label Mayfield's sub-label closed it was transferred to Buddah Records and it was there the Five Stairsteps scored their first major hit. That was in 1970 with the song “O-o-h Child,” a song I am sure we all know and remember, but thought it was by someone else, or another group because it has been covered so many times by others (see the list that follow). In the 1970s they shortened their name to the Stairsteps and it was during this period that they were given the title of the first family of soul. The title would eventually be transferred to the Jackson Five.  So why were they given the title? Between the years 1966 to 1970, they released an incredible amount of hits that culminated with the million dollar hit “O-o-h Child.” The band disbanded in 1976, for various reasons. Keni and Clarence went on to create another band (the Invisible Man's Band) and had solo careers.

Now who are some of the people who covered O-o-h Child? The Spinners, Nina Simone, Dusty Springfield (her version was released posthumously), New Birth, Edwin Hawkins Singers, Mary Wilson (The Supremes), Kelly Rowland (Destiny's Child), Hall & and Oates, Nancy Wilson and Ramsey Lewis (as a duo) and the list goes on.

What is your favourite version of O-o-h Child? Drop me a note or leave a comment below.




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