“O-o-h Child” is a song sung by the Five Stairsteps, a Chicago soul family group. It was written by Stan Vincent and released in 1970 on the Buddah label. The song features uplifting lyrics that tell the listener “things are gonna get easier” in times of strife, and it became popular among pop and rhythm and blues audiences when it was released.
O-o-h Child is a song by the Five Stairsteps released in 1970.
Answered from M. Conroy
“O-o-h Child” is one of the most iconic and uplifting soul/R&B songs of the early 1970s. The opening lines – “Ooh-oo child, things are gonna get easier” – are recognized around the world decades later. But who first recorded this classic track, which still tugs at heartstrings today?
The original version was performed by the Five Stairsteps, an American R&B family vocal group from Chicago. Released in 1970, their recording of “O-o-h Child” became the group's biggest hit and remains highly influential in R&B and pop music history today.
History and Early Success of the Five Stairsteps
The Five Stairsteps consisted of five siblings – Alohe, Clarence Jr., James, Dennis, and Kenneth “Keni” Burke. The musical group formed in 1965, led by the five children of singer-songwriter Clarence Burke Sr.
Initially named the Burke Family Singers, they were later christened The Five Stairsteps by manager Eddie Thomas. “Stairsteps” referred to the five Burke kids being separated by a year in age on the family staircase, from 13-year-old Alohe down to 8-year-old Kenneth.
The Five Stairsteps signed with Curtis Mayfield's Chicago-based label Windy City Records in 1965. Their debut single “You Waited Too Long” was released when oldest member Alohe was just 14, but it proved a smash hit, soaring to #16 on the Billboard R&B charts in 1966.
Follow-up singles like “World of Fantasy” (#49 R&B) and “Don't Change Your Love” (#93 Pop/#25 R&B) continued the group's momentum, despite the members still being teenagers. By 1970, the Five Stairsteps had emerged as breakout stars in the R&B and soul genre.
The Breakthrough: “O-o-h Child” in 1970
In 1970, the burgeoning Five Stairsteps began working with producer Stan Vincent on their second album for Buddha Records, titled O-o-h Child.
The group was now made up of five siblings ranging from 17 years old (Alohe) down to 12 years old (Kenneth). When the album's title track was released as a single that April, everything changed.
“O-o-h Child” showcased lead singer Kenneth “Keni” Burke's smooth, soulful vocals. The song's uplifting lyrics about overcoming struggle struck a powerful chord in a nation divided over the Vietnam War:
“Ooh-oo child, things are gonna get easier / Ooh-oo child, things'll get brighter”
The message clearly resonated. When released as a single in April 1970, “O-o-h Child” climbed all the way to #8 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the Five Stairsteps' first and only top 10 pop hit.
It topped the R&B chart at #2 as well, firmly establishing the young Burke siblings as stars.
Billboard Chart Peak Positions – “O-o-h Child”
In an era of political tension and uncertainty, “O-o-h Child” stood out as a unifying anthem that crossed demographic lines. Its success cemented Keni Burke's status as an iconic soul vocalist at just 15 years old.
Cultural Resonance of the Lyrics
“O-o-h Child” is remembered for its inspirational and optimistic lyrics, written by producer Stan Vincent. Released during a fraught period in American history, lines like “things are gonna get easier…things'll get brighter” offered encouragement to listeners from all walks of life.
The song expresses empathy and compassion for someone going through hard times. Its reassuring message – keep your head up, the future looks brighter ahead – built a sense of community during divisive times.
As acclaimed music critic Robert Christgau wrote in his contemporary review:
“Rarely has a Number Two hit on the R&B charts fulfilled its function as spiritual solace for a culture ravaged by war and hatred as fully as ‘O-o-h Child.'”
Indeed, “O-o-h Child” managed to articulate the hopes and pains of a generation. Just when people needed to hear it most, the Five Stairsteps delivered a touching, human message that still resonates 50+ years later.
Spotlight on Keni Burke's Lead Vocals
While all five Burke siblings contributed background vocals on “O-o-h Child,” it was Keni Burke's memorable lead vocal performance at just age 15 that made the track truly soar.
Keni projected a smooth, velvety delivery with touches of vulnerability and strength that perfectly matched the song's sentiment. His nuanced vocal tones shift dynamically between the gentle verses and empowering chorus:
“When I was young, I thought that I could change the world…Ooh-oo child, things are gonna get easier.”
As one retrospective review raved:
“Keni Burke is amazing in the way he can make his voice sound fragile and vulnerable in the softer parts…then strong and inspiring in the chorus. His voice really sells the message.”
Burke's passionate performance resulted in a career-defining moment. Though he later went solo in 1976, fans worldwide remember Keni Burke best as the young vocalist behind “O-o-h Child,” which captured lightning in a bottle.
Cross-Genre Influence and Covers Over 5 Decades
Thanks to its universal lyrics and timeless sound, “O-o-h Child” has remained culturally influential since its release in 1970. The song has been featured in numerous films over the years, such as:
- Boyz n the Hood (1991)
- Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
It has also been covered by major artists across different genres:
- 1970s – Nina Simone, Etta James
- 1990s – SWV, Daryl Hall
- 2000s – Beth Orton, Jackie Wilson
- 2010s – The O'Jays, Jazmine Sullivan
“O-o-h Child” inspired covers in musical styles ranging from reggae to country to smooth jazz. Samples of Keni Burke's original vocals have even been used in hip hop songs, by artists like Nas, Spice 1, and Arrested Development.
Clearly, the multigenerational appeal of the Five Stairsteps' signature hit has transcended genres. It remains one of the most widely sampled and covered songs of the early 1970s soul/R&B era.
Select Major Covers/Samples of “O-o-h Child”
Why “O-o-h Child” Stands the Test of Time
Decades after topping the charts, what makes “O-o-h Child” an enduring classic? A few key factors:
- Timeless lyrics – Messages of hope and optimism remain relevant across generations
- Keni Burke's vocals – His passionate delivery is impossible to forget
- Cross-genre appeal – Soul sound attracts diverse artists across musical styles
- Cultural nostalgia – Evokes fond memories of the 1970s era
- Sampled by hip hop legends – Keeps the song fresh and current
Thanks to these elements, Five Stairsteps' “O-o-h Child” can still lift spirits and bring people together in any era. It remains not just one of the most iconic soul/R&B songs, but one of the most inspiring pop anthems of all time.
Key Facts Summary
- “O-o-h Child” was recorded by American family R&B group The Five Stairsteps
- It was released as a single in April 1970, written by Stan Vincent
- Sung beautifully by 15-year-old lead vocalist Keni Burke
- Reached #8 on Billboard Hot 100, #2 on R&B charts
- Uplifting lyrics struck a chord in a divided America
- Remains influential with covers across genres to this day
- An iconic hit that encapsulates the soul/R&B sound of its era
So next time you hear that familiar opening refrain – “Ooh-oo child, things are gonna get easier…” – you'll know it originated with The Five Stairsteps back in 1970! Keni Burke's youthful yet soulful vocals helped make the track a timeless classic.