Andrew Woolfolk, a saxophone player and multi-instrumentalist for Earth, Wind & Fire has died after a six-year illness, band frontman Philip Bailey confirmed in a social media post Tuesday afternoon. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member was 71.
“I met him in high school,” Bailey wrote on Instagram, “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.”
“I’m so sorry to hear this,” responded jazz bass great Christian McBride. “What a major part of the EWF legacy.”
Woolfolk joined the band in 1973, several years after the group’s founding — he succeeded Ronnie Laws as sax player — but was recruited by by his high school friend Bailey well in time for the group’s astounding run of hits in the mid-’70s and beyond.
His initial run with the group ran from 1974’s “Open Your Eyes” album through the band going on hiatus a decade later. He returned for EWF’s reunion in 1987 and stayed with the band for six more years, ultimately departing in 1993. Besides the soprano sax, he also played flute and percussion for the group.
Among the smash albums he played on during the group’s original run was the 1975 blockbuster “That’s the Way of the World” — their only album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 — plus albums including “All ‘N All,” “Gratitude” and “Spirit.” EWF’s hits during Woolfolk’s tenure with the band included the 1975 No. 1 smash “Shining Star,” plus “Boogie Wonderland,” “Fantasy,” “Reasons,” “Let’s Groove,” “Sing a Song” and others.
In a 2019 interview Bailey said that Woolfolk was living in a retirement home at that time and no longer performing.
Beyond EWF, Woolfolk also appeared on Bailey solo records like “Triumph” as well as albums by Phil Collins (1996’s “Dance Into the Light”), Deniece Williams, Stanley Turrentine, Level 42, Valerie Carter and Ricky Lawson.