The Five Stairsteps, known as "The First Family of Soul", were an American Chicago soul group made up of five of Betty and Clarence Burke Sr.'s six children: Alohe Jean, Clarence Jr., James, Dennis, and Kenneth "Keni", and briefly, Cubie. They are best known for the 1970 song Ooh Child, listed #392 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The Chicago group was dubbed "First Family of Soul" because of their successful five-year chart run; the moniker was later passed on to the Jackson 5. Initially a teenage five-member brothers and sister vocal group made up of the offspring of Betty and Clarence Burke, the Five Stairsteps (named by Mrs. Burke who thought her kids looked like stair steps when lined up according to their age) featured lead singer Clarence Jr., Alohe, James, Dennis, and 13-year-old Kenneth ("Keni"). Most of the members attended Harlan High School. The Burkes named their last child after Cubie Coleman. He owned a bar in Chicago. Clarence Sr. was a detective for the Chicago Police Department and loving father. He backed the group on bass guitar, managed them, and co-wrote songs with Clarence Jr. and Gregory Fowler.
After winning first prize in a talent contest at the legendary Regal Theater, the Five Stairsteps were beset with recording contract offers. A close neighbor and family friend was Fred Cash of the Impressions, who introduced the group to Curtis Mayfield. Signed to Mayfield's Windy City imprint, which was distributed by Philadelphia-based Cameo Parkway Records, their first single was Gregory Fowler's written ballad You Waited Too Long b/w the upbeat Don't Waste Your Time, a Mayfield song. A double-sided hit in Chicago, the A-side, You Waited Too Long, charted number 16 R&B in spring of 1966, and the hits kept coming. Around the end of 1967, Cameo-Parkway folded and Windy C switched to Art Kass's New York-based Buddah Records through former Cameo-Parkway executive Neil Bogart, who joined the new label as co-president. The group's second album, Family Portrait (complete with a montage of Burke family photos), was recorded and produced in Chicago by Clarence Jr. With the addition of their three-year-old brother, the group became the Five Stairsteps & Cubie. "Family Portrait" yielded two hit singles, Something's Missing and a cover of Jimmy Charles and the Revelletts' hit A Million to One. The group often toured with the Impressions. Signing with Buddah Records, the group was once again known as the Five Stairsteps.
In the spring of 1970, the group released their sole certified million-seller and biggest pop hit, Ooh Child (written by Stan Vincent), which hit number 14 R&B and number eight pop. The falsetto bridge and ending ad-libs of the song are sung by the Stairsteps' cousin, Charles "Chaz" Simmons. The flip side of the single, a cover of the Beatles Lennon/McCartney's Dear Prudence, charted number 49 R&B. The following year, the group resurfaced as the Stairsteps with two charting Buddah singles: Didn't It Look So Easy and I Love You-Stop. The group appeared in the 1970 movie The Isley Brothers Live At Yankee Stadium, a documentary of a benefit concert filmed at the famous home of the New York Yankees featuring The Isley Brothers, the Brooklyn Bridge and various other Buddah Records-affiliated artists. In the early '70s, the group was known as Stairsteps. Alohe was still with the group. Cubie never really sang with the group, but would grow up to be a popular dancer with the Dance Theater of Harlem etc. Billy Preston introduced the Stairsteps to the Beatles, and the group signed with George Harrison's Dark Horse label distributed by A&M Records. Alohe left the group in 1972 to begin a spiritual journey, and later would attend college, graduate and work at Emory University. She also was a guest speaker there. An album, 'Second Resurrection', was released in February 1976, produced by Preston, Robert Margouleff, and the Stairsteps. From Us to You, written by Clarence Jr. and Keni Burke, was the group's biggest hit since Ooh Child, peaking at number ten R&B in early 1976. The follow-up single, Passado, also covered by the group Pockets, received airplay in Chicago, New York, and other markets. Keni sang, played bass, and wrote both songs on the third single, "Tell Me Why" b/w "Salaam." They made two additional albums under the moniker The Invisible Man's Band, scoring with the disco hit, All Night Thang, which reached number 9 on the charts, before disbanding. It is reported they used the new name to not offend their loyal fans who had not associated the Stairsteps with disco.