Fans of Earth, Wind & Fire need only hear a few notes of Philip Bailey’s iconic falsetto before they start to swoon, sway and sing along. Since the ’70s, the lead singer and Grammy award-winning band have given the world such hits as “Reasons,” “September,” and “Head to the Sky,” to name a few.
Today, at 69, Bailey is still performing with original bandmates Verdine White and Ralph Johnson, his son Philip Bailey Jr., and fellow musicians who continue the musical legacy of the group’s late founder, Maurice White.
The Covid-19 pandemic has meant postponing a planned 2020 tour with Santana. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame co-inductee has used some of the quarantine downtime to focus on humanitarian work via his “Music Is Unity” Foundation. Tonight (December 3), the nonprofit will host a virtual holiday fundraiser to benefit youth impacted by foster care. The public is invited.
“As we count down the days to end a challenging year, we also celebrate our strength, resiliency, and hopes for the future,” Bailey told ESSENCE by phone. “My foundation is ending the year with a renewed focus on our mission to give our emancipated foster youth a brighter future.”
A native of Denver, Colorado, Bailey studied opera in college before joining Earth, Wind & Fire at age 21. He described himself as “a natural baritone with a four octave range.” The entertainer lives in Los Angeles and has seven teenage/adult children and multiple grandkids. He affectionately calls his tribe, “The Bailey Nation.”
He and his daughter, Trinity Bailey (who manages the band) co-founded the “Music is Unity” foundation back in 2007. Its advocacy centers around assisting young people with support and resources as they transition out of the foster system.
“I can’t imagine my loved ones being in this world without anybody to turn to, without any support or encouragement, guidance in any shape, form or fashion,” Bailey said. “But there’s such a large population of people and that’s their plight. Through no fault of their own. Sometimes parents die, sometimes parents can’t take care of them–all kinds of misfortunes. And they find themselves in foster care. These foster youth are often unrecognized and underserved.”
Federal data shows more than 400,000 young people, ranging from infants to ages 18 (or 21 in some states) are in America’s foster care system. An estimated 26,000 foster youth are emancipated (known as `aging out’) across the country each year. Studies have shown foster care youth are at higher risk for homelessness, the prison pipeline and sex trafficking.
“When they’re transitioning out [of the system], they are just booted out into the world,” Bailey said. “Many times with no food, shelter or necessities.”
The foundation provides financial support to numerous non-profit agencies that provide programming and support to help foster youth transition successfully into adulthood. The organization offers grants, scholarships, and access to music education through its Backstage Soundcheck program.
“I’ve met the young people at our shows and some have visited my home to share their plight,” Bailey tells Essence, noting that a percentage of ticket sales from Earth, Wind & Fire concerts are designated for the foundation. Additional sources of funding include individuals and corporations.
The “Music Is Unity” Virtual Holiday Gala kicks off Thursday, December 3 from 7-8:30 pm ET. The evening will feature a special holiday performance by Bailey, plus an audience led Q & A. Sponsored by Woodford Reserve, the event will be hosted by Washington D.C. personalities, DJ Sheesh and DJ Flava and feature a make-your-own cocktail reception, a wine tasting with Mount Peak Wineries viticulturist Brenae Royal and more. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased via EventBrite.com.
Bailey told ESSENCE that proceeds will benefit foster youth in need of care, food, shelter, and other resources during the pandemic. Funds will be distributed to non-profit foster care agencies including: Foster Youth in Action, Rise Above Foundation, Elevating Connections, Kids InThe Spotlight and Beyond Emancipation.
Meanwhile, Bailey is still on a journey to use music as a way to uplift humanity. Last year, the crooner released his third solo jazz album titled “Love Will Find A Way” (Verve Records). He hopes fans will continue to support his artistic endeavors, and the foundation’s efforts to give foster youth a brighter future.
“It’s really sad that you have more infomercials on TV to adopt a dog or a cat, or save a whale, then you do millions of flesh and blood human beings,” he said. “It’s such an enormous problem, and sometimes people just look the other way. But if you can do whatever you can, it’s greatly appreciated.”
For more information about the Music Is Unity Foundation visit www.musicisunity.org.