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Who’s Keni Burke then?
Well, – he’s the guy that came up with the brilliant and classic bass line that set the standard for today’s groove orientated R&B. His intro to "Risin’ To The Top» has been sampled by more than twenty (!) soul and hip hop artists…. 

The Five Stairsteps…
Born Kenneth M. Burke 1953 in Chicago, Keni began his career in music as a young teen with his family group The Five Stairsteps. Fred Cash of The Impressions took Keni and the guys to see Curtis Mayfield in 1966. Shortly they were signed to the Windy City imprint Curtis had with Buddah Records and their hit version of "O-o-h Child» became a signature song of the early 70’s. 

Now just called The Stairsteps they signed with George Harrison’s Dark Horse label in 1976 and released the album "2nd Resurrection". Billy Preston introduced them to The Beatles and subsequently helped them get the Dark Horse deal. [More on The Five Stairsteps]

Session work…
When the group disbanded, Keni cut a solo album for Dark Horse in 1977 and worked consistently as a session bass player. The list is pretty impressive and contains acts like Sly & The Family Stone, Bill Withers, The Four Tops, The Emotions, Stargard, Curtis Mayfield, Bill Withers, Narada Michael Walden, Ramsey Lewis, Linda Clifford, Diana Ross and Gladys Knight.

New solo deal…
In 1981 he cut a new solo album deal with RCA and came back with a vengeance on a song called «Let Somebody Love You». The album «You’re The Best» was acclaimed as one of the year’s top soul albums – but no one could have predicted what was to come next. 

A classic is made…
In 1982 Keni returned with a new album «Changes». It was the album that included "Risin’ To The Top", a totally unique record with a bass line that has dominated R&B music ever since. The song/bass line has been sampled by more than 20 soul and hip hop acts. First by Doug E. Fresh, then by Mary J. Blige and on the debut for Wildcard signee Ali ("Feelin’ You»). The list just goes on with  people who have used this record over the years. 

Both RCA albums also established a production style that many R&B acts have turned to since "Risin’ To the Top". The Jones Girls ("You Can’t Have My Love" and "Ah Ah Ah Ah" from the album "Keep It Comin’" 1984), The O’Jays ("Put Our Heads Together" from the album "When Will I See You Again" 1983), The Whitehead Brothers, The Drama Group, Keith Sweat, Mavis Staples ("Chocolate City"), The Whispers (co-writing "Let’s Go All The Way"), Walter & Scotty (of the Whispers), Perri (co-writing "I’m The One" and also playing bass on "The Flight") Peabo Bryson Perri, and Bill Withers.

The latest album…
Keni has probably put some of the money generated from the many samples of "Risin’ To The Top" into building a new studio in the basement of his Atlanta home where he cut his 1998 album " Nothin’ But Love", specifically for UK’s Expansion Records. He first met the label’s Ralph Tee at a Berwick Soul Weekender, and the album combines all the elements that have established Keni as such an outstanding artist. The songwriting, musicianship, vocals and productions are all here. A kind of Isley Brothers laid-back vocalizing over some more Isleys-ish laid-back tracks. Keni’s son Osaze Burke makes his debut here as a guest vocalist on «I Need Your Love". The track also features Natina, a rap artist signed to Sony Music.

Let’s hope there’s more to come…

Fender Jazz Bass

UK Blues & Soul Magazine was in the mid-80’s describing how excellent this local record store was and wrote: «…and they had all the Keni Burke albums… all THREE of them!".

Gunnar Homdrum 1995 © 2005