Charles Stepney

Charles Stepney
Born March 26, 1931
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Died May 17, 1976(1976-05-17) (aged 45)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Genres Soul, R&B, modern classical
Occupation(s) Record Producer
Instruments Vibraphone, piano, keyboards, guitar, drums
Years active 1957–1976
Labels Chess
Associated acts Ramsey Lewis, The Dells Minnie Riperton, Earth, Wind & Fire

Charles Stepney (March 26, 1931[1][2][3] – May 17, 1976)[2][4] was an American record producer, arranger, songwriter and musician, noted for his orchestral psychedelic soul sound with Chicago's Cadet/Chess records in the 1960s and 1970s and afterwards with Earth, Wind & Fire.

Production history

Stepney and Marshall Chess (son of Chess Records co-founder Leonard Chess) in the mid 1960s created the band Rotary Connection for the new experimental Cadet Concept label and between 1967 and 1971 produced six innovative studio albums for Rotary Connection (receiving a Grammy nomination in 1968[5]):

Between the creation of the Rotary Connection albums, Stepney also produced, arranged and co-wrote with Rotary Connection singer Minnie Riperton’s 1970 debut album Come to My Garden. Commenting on Minnie at the time he said that she "has a soprano range of about four octaves, a whole lot of soul, she's good-looking and she's got the experience of Rotary behind her."[6] During this time Stepney wrote, produced and conducted a Classical Jazz Symphony in 5 parts entitled "Cohesion". "Cohesion" was performed in Minneapolis, MN by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Ramsey Lewis Trio and Minnie Riperton. It was his first opportunity to conduct live before an audience.[5] Stepney is also credited as a musician/producer on the following albums:[7]

In the mid 1970s, Stepney teamed up again with Maurice White and produced a number of Ramsey Lewis Trio albums in which Maurice drummed. Before he died he co-produced with Maurice the platinum selling Earth, Wind & Fire albums Open Our Eyes (1974), That's the Way of the World, Gratitude both released in 1975 and Spirit released in 1976. He also co-produced on Last_Days_and_Time but couldn't take credit because of his contract with Chess Records. However, a picture of his daughters were on the inside cover to acknowledge their appreciation of his contribution.[8] His favorite book was The Schillinger System of Musical Composition by Joseph Schillinger.[9]


The song, "Spirit" was intended to uplift Stepney's spirit and to show all the gratitude that Earth, Wind & Fire had towards him. However, Stepney never got to hear the song. Maurice White spoke to Stepney on the morning of May 17, 1976, but later that day, Earth, Wind & Fire keyboardist Larry Dunn received a phone call, informing him that Charles Stepney had died of a heart attack.

Influence and legacy

Artists such as Ramsey Lewis, Stevie Wonder, Deniece Williams, Chaka Khan, 4hero, Jean-Paul 'Bluey' Maunick, Zero 7, Elton John, Gilles Peterson & Terry Callier have been influenced by Stepney.[5][10] Stepney is survived by his wife Rubie and his three daughters Eibur, Charlene and Chante.


As sideman

With Eddie Harris

With Ramsey Lewis

As arranger

With Ramsey Lewis

With Eddie Harris

With Minnie Riperton


  1. "Cook County (IL) Birth Index [database on-line]". Chicago, Illinois: Cook County Clerk's Office. March 26, 1931. Archived from the original on September 25, 2009. Retrieved October 17, 2009.
  2. 1 2 Charles Stepney (2009). "Social Security Death Index [database on-line]". United States: The Generations Network. Retrieved October 17, 2009.
  3. "Charles Stepney Chicago's Most Prolific Man of Music". Retrieved 2015-07-28.
  4. "Charles Stepney". Retrieved 2015-07-28.
  5. 1 2 3 Archived January 25, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. Black, Edwin (November 26, 1970). "For The Record: Charles Stepney". Downbeat Magazine. Archived from the original on February 25, 2005. Retrieved May 8, 2009.
  7. "Charles Stepney legendary composer/arranger/producer who was behind some of the most spiritual albums to come out of the chicago/cadet school...". Archived from the original on March 24, 2005.
  8. Charlene Stepney, His Daughter
  9. "Charles Stepney – Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved May 8, 2009.
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