Charles Stepney

Charles Stepney (March 26, 1931 – May 17, 1976) 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):

  • Rotary Connection (1967)
  • Aladdin (1968)
  • Peace (1968)
  • Songs (1969)
  • Dinner Music (1970)
  • Hey Love (1971) (as the New Rotary Connection)

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." 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. Stepney is also credited as a musician/producer on the following albums:

  • The Soulful Strings – Paint It Black (1966) and Groovin' with the Soulful Strings (1967)
  • Muddy Waters – Electric Mud (1968) and After the Rain (1969)
  • Howlin' Wolf – The Howlin' Wolf Album (1969)
  • Marlena Shaw – The Spice of Life (1969)
  • Terry Callier – Occasional Rain (1972), What Color Is Love (1973) and I Just Can't Help Myself (1974)
  • Ramsey Lewis – Maiden Voyage (Cadet, 1968), Mother Nature's Son (Cadet, 1968), The Piano Player (Cadet, 1969), Sun Goddess (Columbia, 1974), Don't It Feel Good (Columbia, 1975) and Salongo (Columbia, 1976)
  • Phil Upchurch – Upchurch (Cadet, 1969) and The Way I Feel (Cadet, 1970)
  • The Dells – There Is (1968), Love is Blue (1969), Like It Is, Like It Was (1971) and Freedom Means (1971)
  • The Emotions – Flowers (1976)
  • Deniece Williams – This Is Niecy (1976)

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 WorldGratitude 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. His favorite book was The Schillinger System of Musical Composition by Joseph Schillinger.


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 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. Stepney is survived by his wife Rubie and his three daughters Eibur, Charlene and Chante.


As sideman

With Eddie Harris

  • Jazz for "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (Vee-Jay, 1961)
  • For Bird and Bags (Exodus, 1963)

With Ramsey Lewis

  • Back to the Roots (Cadet, 1971)
  • Sun Goddess (Columbia, 1974)

As arranger

With Ramsey Lewis

  • Maiden Voyage (Cadet, 1968)
  • Mother Nature's Son (Cadet, 1968)

With Eddie Harris

  • Plug Me In (Atlantic, 1968) US

With Minnie Riperton

  • Come to My Garden (GRT, 1970)

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