Primary Instrument: Band/orchestra
The legend of The Pharaohs starts at Crane Junior College on the West side of Chicago. Under the tutelage of James Mack a student band is formed- The Jazzmen- which in 1962 wins the best band category at Chicago's annual Harvest Moon Festival. The band featured a front-line of Charles Handy (trumpet) Louis Satterfield (trombone) and Don Myrick (alto sax) backed by Maurice White (trap drums), RAMANANA (Fred Humphrey) (Piano) and bassist Ernest McCarthy.
At the time Chicago based Chess Records was fast becoming America's premier forum for progressive Black music and jazzmen White, Satterfield and Handy became prominent session players at the label joining an illustrious group which already featured guitarist Pete Cosey, arranger /pianists Phil Wright and the late Charles Stepney.
After a while these musicians moved over to the South Side to the fledgling Affro Arts Theater where they joined the Artistic Heritage Ensemble, under the leadership of Phil Cohran. As the name suggests The Affro Arts Theater was more than just a music venue, offering free concerts and tuition in music, yoga, dance and art with an afrocentric perspective to the local community. Presently Cohran left to teach at Malcolm X Junior College and Chuck Handy and The Pharoahs and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble merged to form The Pharaohs; that's how, narrates Handy the group grew in size from a six piece group to an orchestra.
It was this version of the band: Satterfield, Handy, Big Willie Woods (Trombone), Oye Bisi (African drums), Shango Njoko Adefumi (African Drums), Black Herman Waterford (Quinto drum, alto sax), Don Myrick (saxes), Yehudah Ben Israel (guitar, vocals), Alious Watkins (trap drums, tuba), Derf Reklaw Raheem (percussion, flute), Aaron Dodd (Tuba); that in 197I recorded “The Awakening.”
By 1972 when “In The Basement” was recorded the unit had expanded to include Derrick Morris (trap drums), Warren Bingham (guitar), Rahm Lee (trumpet) and Sue Conway (Vocal). For too few years the Pharaohs ruled but by 1973 it was all over.
What happened to the Pharaohs? In the early seventies Maurice White who had found considerable success with Ramsey Lewis' third important trio, gathered together many of his Chicago chums (including Handy, Myrick and Satterfield) to record a demo , on the strength of which he inked a deal with Warner Bros. and returned to Chicago to assemble a band. In the process he changed name, basing the new one on the astrological signs of the three founding members: Earth Wind and Fire.
For his early recordings with this new band White approached Pharaohs Myrick, Satterfield and Yahudah (Yakov) Ben Israel. After scoring a major hit with the live recording of “Reasons” Myrick and Satterfield joined Rahm Lee and Michael Harris to form The Phenix Horns, Earth Wind and Fire's permanent horn section. EWF, following the trail of gold West trod by so many mid Western musicians and by Motown itself, moved out to Los Angeles while Charles Handy preferred to remain in Chicago, continuing his studies in Egyptology at the Field Museum of Natural History.
The Pharaohs as a band were effectively gone but their influence was undiminished: Earth Wind and Fire's Egyptian iconography ( from the Sphinx/Pyramid laden album art to the musical references to Sun Goddesses and Serpentine Fires) owes as much to The Pharaoh's philosophy as their horny percussive bass heavy groove does to The Pharaohs musical innovation (it was Louis Satterfield who taught Verdine White to play bass, and Maurice the Kalimba!). Earth Wind and Fire in turn have profoundly influenced popular music.
Charles Handy, for one, believes The Pharaoh's still have something to say: This music is very relevant today he says. Now you've got what you call world music and they are rediscovering the sounds- like the African drums and such, combining that with European horns and electric instruments- that we were using back then 30 years ago.
Source: Ubiquity Records