The Pharaohs

Not many have heard of the Pharaohs, but they still hold a pivotal place in ?70s jazz-funk. Although the Chicago-based group only managed one album in their short lifetime, 1971?s Awakening, several members of the band went on to form the much more successful Earth Wind and Fire, among other projects. The roots of the Pharaohs are in a college band, the Jazzmen, which formed at Crane Junior College on Chicago?s west side in 1961. After winning the Best Band award at Chicago?s prestigious Harvest Moon Festival in 1962, the group?s three core members, trombonist Louis Satterfield, trumpeter Charles Handy, saxophonist Don Myrick and drummer Maurice White, joined the house band at Chess Records, playing sessions for literally dozens of jazz and blues greats over the next several years. Satterfield and Handy became involved in Afrocentric politics and cultural thinking in the mid-?60s, and by the end of the decade, the two had joined a collective called the Affro Arts Theater, a community-oriented local venue. Their group, Chuck Handy and the Pharaohs, often jammed with another group in the same circles, the Artistic Heritage Ensemble, which featured a lineup including two African drummers. When the leader of the Artistic Heritage Ensemble left music to accept a teaching job, the two groups merged under Handy?s leadership and formed the Pharaohs in 1970. The group?s initial lineup consisted of Handy, Satterfield, Myrick, trombonist Big Willie Woods, tuba player Aaron Dodd, guitarist and vocalist Yehudah ben Israel and a whopping five drummers: Oye Bisi and Shango Njoko Adefumi, who specialized in African drums; percussionist Derf Reklaw Raheem, who doubled on flute; Quinto drummer Black Herman Waterford, who doubled on alto saxophone; and trap drummer Alious Watkins, who occasionally doubled on tuba. This lineup recorded 1971?s Awakening for the tiny local indie Scarab Records. Though the album would go on to become a funk classic beloved by collectors, it sold miserably, hampered by poor distribution. The group grew even further in 1972, adding singer Sue Conway, trumpeter Rahm Lee, guitarist Warren Bingham and trap drummer Derrick Morris, but although a single, ?Tha Pharaohs Love Y?All? backed with Al Green?s ?Love and Happiness,? was released that year, a second album never materialized. In the meantime, Maurice White had left the Ramsey Lewis Trio and started putting together his own band. At first, Earth Wind and Fire was a loose aggregation of White?s old Chicago friends, whom he would bring into studio sessions as needed; Handy, Satterfield, ben Israel and Myrick all played on the early Earth Wind and Fire albums. But as Earth Wind and Fire grew more successful, its lineup solidified; Myrick, Satterfield and Lee formed three-quarters of the Phenix Horns, Earth Wind and Fire?s permanent horn section, and moved with White to Los Angeles in 1974. Charles Handy, whose interest in Egyptology profoundly influenced Earth Wind and Fire?s Egypt-centric iconography, was invited to join the band full-time, but he preferred to retire from music professionally, taking a job in the Egyptian Studies division of Chicago?s Field Museum of Natural History. Derf Reklaw-Raheem went on to release several excellent albums? worth of African-influenced jazz. When the small reissue label Luv N Haight reissued Awakening on CD in 1996, they also brought out a companion album, In the Basement, consisting of 1972 live recordings by the expanded Pharaohs, along with both sides of the group?s 1972 single. ~ Stewart Mason, Rovi

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