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Charles Stepney

An Unsung Hero Of American Music

Charles Stepney, one of the worlds most creative, and prolific musicians of his time and beyond, exhibited in his work as a performer, an arranger, a writer, and a producer. His musical diversity encompassed the genres of Jazz, Blues, Gospel, Classical, Rock, Folk, Hip Hop etc., in his unique styles of Fusion.

He played the piano, vibraharps and organ, and began his career as a local performing artist in Chicago.

Charles began his career at Chicago’s Chess Records as a copyrighter and eventually he became a major producer and A&R for Chess Records, writing, arranging, and producing for artist like Ramsey Lewis, Phil Upchurch, Terry Callier, Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, Marlena Shaw, The Soulful Strings, and the amazing Minnie Ripperton, as well as others.

Charles regularly employed the world renown Chicago Symphony Orchestra as he infused the classical genre into his faceted visions of musical compositions.

While at Chess Records, Charles also formed his own band along with Marshall Chess, called Rotary Connection. Rotary Connection was a Rock, Soul, Ethnic, Electric Fusion band which gave Charles the opportunity to explore his love of blended genres and especially his interests in electronic sounds.

Charles, also became a commercial producer for friend and colleague Tom Burrell, and was a major contributor in creating Tom Burrell's vision for Black and Ethnic advertising. His use of R&B combined with his touches of classical influence helped expand and make way for the use of complex musical style in the world of jingles.

Later working with Maurice White and Columbia Records, he produced, wrote and arranged albums on Earth, Wind and Fire, Deniece Williams, The Emotions and the now deceased Cash McCall.

Sadly as he was completing Earth, Wind and Fireʼs Spirit album, Charles suffered a heart attack and passed away on May 26, 1976. The Spirit album was dedicated to him.

Since his passing, he has remained an icon of influence and trailblazing, especially among peer producers. He has been praised by music giants like Elton John, Chaka Khan and more.

His music has been a major player in Hip Hop and Neo Soul genres, with over two hundred samples.