Today International Anthem, alongside the family of late Chicago producer, arranger, musician and composer Charles Stepney, make claim to the upcoming season, declaring summer 2022 the “Summer of Stepney.” Starting this May, the Summer of Stepney will extend through September and will include events, performances, documentary video and archival recording releases celebrating Stepney’s music and legacy.
Stepney is known to some for his work with Earth, Wind & Fire, Deniece Williams, and Ramsey Lewis, or for his work with Chess Records in the 1960s, where he was an essential creative force behind seminal recordings by Rotary Connection, Minnie Riperton, Marlena Shaw, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Terry Callier, The Dells, The Emotions, and many many more. In the decades since his untimely death in 1976, the presence of his name in liner notes and on vinyl labels has become a seal of quality for record collectors, music historians, and aficionados, while his sound has been used by countless samplers in the hip-hop world including Kanye West, A Tribe Called Quest, The Fugees, MF Doom, and Madlib. But in comparison to the post-mortem renown of his sound, or the music he created and the artists he supported while he was alive, Stepney is a greatly under-appreciated figure… a genius relegated to the shadows.
Along with their announcement the label shares “Daddy’s Diddies,” a rarely-heard home recording by Stepney, available on all digital music platforms today. The digital single, which follows the first ever worldwide release of an eponymous Charles Stepney recording in March (“Step on Step”), is another homemade gem from the treasure trove of creative compositional seedlings left behind by the late legend.
Working alone in the storied red-carpet basement of his home on the Southside of Chicago sometime in the early 1970s, the enigmatic producer composed and recorded “Daddy’s Diddies “on 4-track tape, overdubbing Rhodes piano, drum machine, and a wordless chorus of his own vocals. It’s a joyful song that Stepney’s daughter Eibur says she listens to as a way to “hear her father.”
Eibur, alongside her sisters Charlene and Chanté (collectively the Stepney Sisters), have spent the greater part of their lives engaged in a quest to exalt their father’s legacy. As part of those efforts, in the early 2010s, the sisters included “Daddy’s Diddies” on an ultra-limited CD-R that they released on their own DIY label (The Charles Stepney Masters). International Anthem will trickle out newly mastered recordings from that CD-R collection, and eventually a new double LP album of Stepney’s music, across the Summer of Stepney.
Summer of Stepney highlights will also include a series of documentary webisodes created by filmmaker Brian Ashby (Scrappers, The Area, Hairy Who & the Chicago Imagists), and an August 18th show on Chicago’s grandest public performance stage, Millennium Park, called “Charles Stepney: Out of the Shadows.”
The Summer of Stepney events begin with a Kickoff Party at beloved Chicago venue The Hideout, on the afternoon of Sunday May 29th (tickets and info here). The Kickoff Party will feature a panel conversation between the Stepney Sisters and Chicago culture historian Ayana Contreras, DJ sets by King Hippo & Scottie McNiece, and a performance by a new large ensemble – Rotary Connection 222 – under the musical direction of International Anthem recording artist Junius Paul.
Rotary Connection 222 was created by Paul in collaboration with the Stepney Sisters, and in its current state features Makaya McCraven (drums), Jackson Shepard (guitar), Alexis Lombre (keys), Meagan McNeal (vocals), and Stepney’s granddaughter Brandice Manuel (vocals). Across several Summer of Stepney events, Rotary Connection 222 will grow to include 24 total musicians performing new interpretations of Stepney’s signature sound, with new arrangements written by De’Sean Jones and Jeff Parker, for the culminating August 18th performance at Millennium Park.
For more information about Charles Stepney recordings being released by International Anthem, Rotary Connection 222, Summer of Stepney events, the Kickoff Party at The Hideout, and the Charles Stepney: Out of the Shadows performance at Millennium Park, visit www.summerofstepney.com.