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The Pharaohs Biography

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The Pharaohs In-depth Biography

The Pharaohs} were one of the forgotten treasures of '70s R&B}, a freewheeling jazz-funk} congregation heavily influenced by Chicago's jazz} avant-garde as well as on-the-one funk} and African motifs. Unfortunately, they recorded only one album before Earth, Wind & Fire} frontman Maurice White} (who played in an early version of the Pharaohs}) hired several of its members to form the Phenix Horns}, the justly celebrated horn section for Earth, Wind & Fire} during the '70s.

The group was formed from several jazz} bands active around Chicago's Affro Arts Theater, a community educational collective. One of the bands, the Jazzmen}, was formed in the early '60s around trumpeter Charles Handy}, trombone player Louis Satterfield}, and alto Don Myrick} (along with three who didn't survive later conglomerations: pianist Fred Humphrey}, bassist Ernest McCarthy}, and drummer Maurice White}). The other main component of the Pharaohs} was the Artistic Heritage Ensemble}, who had already recorded one late-'60s LP with cornetist Philip Cohran}, a veteran of Sun Ra's Arkestra} and AACM}. By the time of the Pharaohs}' 1971 recording debut, Awakening}, the group included Handy}, Myrick}, and Satterfield} plus Big Willie Woods} on trombone, Oye Bisi} and Shango Njoko Adefumi} on African drums, Yehudah Ben Israel} on guitar and vocals, Alious Watkins} on trap drums, Derf Reklaw-Raheem} on percussion and flute, and Aaron Dodd} on tuba. Though the album's astonishing fusion of funk}, jazz}, and Afro-beat} earned them an assortment of die-hard fans and critics, the group's abstract inclinations hardly geared them for commercial success.

Back in the '60s, before the Pharaohs} were formed, Handy}, Satterfield}, and Maurice White} had often contributed to sessions at Chicago's Chess} studios, so when White} recorded a demo for a new band he wanted to form, both Handy} and Satterfield} appeared on it. After he signed to Warner Bros.}, they also began recording Earth, Wind & Fire} material and eventually were officially hired by White} as the Phenix Horns}, with the addition of Pharaohs} Yehudah Ben Israel} and Rahm Lee}, plus Michael Harris}. The Pharaohs} soldiered on until 1973, but called it quits without recording another studio album. Derf Reklaw} became a respected world}-jazz} leader, while Woods} and Dodd} both appeared on many soul} sessions around Chicago during the '70s. In 1996, the acid jazz} label Luv 'N' Haight} reissued Awakening} and also released the 1972 live outing In the Basement}. ~ John Bush, All Music Guide

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