Andrew Woolfolk, the longtime saxophonist for Earth, Wind & Fire, died on Sunday (April 24) at the age of 71. Woolfolk’s tragic death was confirmed by EWF lead singer Philip Bailey on Instagram. Though the sax player’s cause of death is not public knowledge, his bandmate revealed he had been sick for quite some time.
Bailey reflected in his Instagram post, “I met him in High School, and we quickly became friends and band mates. Andrew Paul Woolfolk was his name. We lost him today, after being ill of over 6 years. He has Transitioned on to the forever, from this Land of the dying to the Land of the Living. Great memories. Great Talent. Funny. Competitive. Quick witted. And always styling. Booski… I’ll see you on the other side, my friend.”
Woolfolk was born on Oct. 11, 1950, in Texas. He met Bailey after moving to Colorado, where he was raised. He studied saxophone under jazz legend Joe Henderson while living in New York City and was considering a career in banking when Bailey tapped him to join EWF in 1973. Woolfolk replaced Ronnie Laws.
His first record with the band was for their first platinum-selling album, 1973’s Head to the Sky. This sparked a string of successes as they continued with 1974’s Open Your Eyes—for which a Rolling Stone review hailed Woolfolk’s “fluent soprano sax”—and 1975’s That’s the Way of the World, which peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Their hit single, “Shining Star,” peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The group continued to thrive for a decade before their hiatus beginning in 1983, which followed the release of their Electric Universe album.
During the late ’70s, Woolfolk began to play for other artists including Deniece Williams, Phil Collins, and Valerie Carter, before joining Bailey for his solo releases: 1984’s The Wonders of His Love and 1986’s Triumph. The latter of which won a Grammy for Best Male Gospel Performance. He reunited with EWF in 1987 and stayed with them until 1993. In 2000, Woolfolk was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Earth, Wind & Fire.
VIBE sends our deepest condolences to the Woolfolk family and Earth, Wind & Fire.