Happy 21st of September, which has lived on in song since November of 1978, when Earth, Wind & Fire dropped “September” as part their first compilation album, The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1. The single was preceded by the release of “Got to Get You into My Life” and followed by “Boogie Wonderland,” two other great tracks from the group, but “September” transcended the idea of a hit to become a truly legendary cultural staple.
So how, exactly, did this song land in the studio, and subsequently in our hearts?
Who Wrote “September?”
The classic funk song began with a a chord progression written by Earth, Wind & Fire guitarist Al McKay. Lyrics were then composed by the band’s vocalist, Maurice White, alongside songwriter Allee Willis, who also worked on “Boogie Wonderland” with the group. White sings, “Do you remember/ The 21st night of September?/ Love was changing the minds of pretenders/ While chasing the clouds away.”
The track was workshopped over the course of one month. According to a conversation with NPR, Willis originally didn’t love the hook, noting that she thought the “ba-dee-ya” sounded like “gibberish.”
Nevertheless, they moved forward with the song, and Willis calls it her “greatest lesson ever in songwriting.”
Why Did Earth, Wind & Fire Choose the 21st of September?
When it came to the process of choosing the specific date sung about in “September,” there are few different versions of the story. One posits that White simply liked the cadence of the date and how it fit into the song. Meanwhile, Willis has has also mentioned a possible connection to the original due date of White’s son, Kahbran. She cites White’s wife, Marilyn, as the origin of this theory.
Willis recalls being recognized in a restaurant while dining with Marilyn White, and a fan asked the significance of the date. In 2018, she recounted the conversation to the Wall Street Journal: “I told him what I had been saying for 40 years: ‘There is no significance. That date just sang the best.’ Marilyn stopped me. She said, ‘Are you kidding? The 21st was the day that our son, Kahbran, was supposed to be born.’”
Willis continues, “Maurice never told me that. For decades, I had been disappointing people whose birthdays or weddings were on the 21st of September. Now they know.”