Renaissance's history actually begins in 1969, when -- after the breakup of the Yardbirds and a short stint as the acoustic group Together -- drummer Jim McCarty and guitarist/vocalist Keith Relf were joined by classically-trained pianist John Hawken who had earlier played with The Nashville Teens, bassist Louis Cennamo and Keith's sister, vocalist Jane Relf.
Actually, the original lineup started falling apart prior to the second album's completion, giving rise to personnel and style changes over the next year before reaching a stable lineup. McCarty hated to fly and left the band in 1970 when they were about to embark on a European tour; Keith Relf and Louis Cennamo left shortly after to pursue a heavier style, eventually forming Armageddon.
Jane Relf quit after the tour completed in the fall of 1970 and was replaced by American female vocalist, Binky Cullom from late October to December 1970. John Hawken, dissatisfied with the new vocalist among other reasons, left to join Spooky Tooth and was replaced by keyboard player John Tout around the same time. Hawken later joined The Strawbs in 1973-1974
Annie Haslam, a brilliant young singer with formal classical vocal training, a beautiful five-octave range and a vivacious personality, answered the Melody Maker advert and got an audition with the band where she met founding members Keith Relf and Jim McCarty.
The lineup of Annie Haslam, John Tout, Terry Crowe, Neil Korner, Terry Slade and Michael Dunford toured Europe extensively leading to further personal and acoustic transitions. Danny McCullough, Frank Farrell and John Wetton each took their turn at bass during the period. Keith Relf and Jim McCarty were still very much involved in the direction of the band behind the scenes and while Relf eventually became disinterested, McCarty remained involved until 1973.
Renaissance are in important band in progressive rock - one which far outranks the bands actual sales in the peak years or their fame at the time. The band seemlessly blended classical, rock and folk in a symphonic progressive style that is almost at the center of this genre's description. Anne Haslam was one of the first females to front a progressive rock band (or any rock band) and in many ways serves as the reference point for both a style of music and a description for other female vocalists in the progressive genre.
Starting with the band's 2nd release with Haslam, Prologue and running though 1975's Scheherazade and including large portions of the albums released surrounding this period - Renaissance delivered some of the most respected and fresh progressive rock in the classic period of the 70's. Their live release from Carnege Hall is one of the cleanest performances and records among the 'live' collections of the era. Songs such as Ocean Gypsy, Ashes are Burning, Mother Russia and Scheherazade are often cited as classics of the genre.
Starting in the late 70's and early 80's the influence of directed radio grew, the band found it hard to get noticed and slowly migrated to a more conventional pop/rock sound leading to the bands effective closing the door by the mid-1980's.
Haslam has gone on to record a number of solo works of variying styles including progressive ones, and the band have reformed in various combinations in the years following including a kind of 'renaissance' (pun intended) in the 2000's with new music and live performances to the delight of new and long time fans.
Michael Dunford passed away in 2012.