Musical genius and legend Maurice White left this mortal coil quietly and in his sleep after a long bout with Parkinson’s disease. He died in his Los Angeles, California home at the age of 74 on the morning of February 4, 2016 leaving behind a vast volume of work as a performer, songwriter, producer and co-producer.
The founder and band leader of one of the most thrilling and exhilarating instrumental funk & Rock ‘n Roll bands in the musical world originally called “Salty Peppers,” White changed the band name to Earth, Wind & Fire reflecting the elements of his astrological chart. Whether fans recognized it or not, White occasionally incorporated the spirituality of his thinking in his lyrics.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Maurice lived in the Foote Homes Project as a child with his grandmother. Although he often visited his mother and stepfather in Chicago. His stepfather was a doctor who occasional played the saxophone. As a teen, Maurice moved to Chicago where he eventually studied drum at the Chicago Conservatory of Music. And the rest is history.
White became a songwriter, musician, producer, bandleader and founder of Earth, Wind & Fire along with members Verdine White, Reggie Young, Gary Bias, Myron McKinley, John Paris, Bobby Burns, Jr, Serg Dimitrijevic, Kim Johnson, Morris O’Connor, Philip Bailey, Jr, Larry Dunn, Ralph Johnson, Al McKay, and Andrew Woolfolk, Over the years the band grew in members including vocalist Jessica Cleaves, Ronnie Laws on flute and saxophone and rhythm guitarist Roland Bautista, et al.
Nominated for Grammy’s 20 times, White and the band won seven Grammy’s, was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Vocal Group Hall of Fame. He garnered a star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame, sold over 90 million albums worldwide, won four American Music Awards and was inducted in the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame.
An innovator, White developed Earth, Wind & Fire into an eclectic band spanning the musical genres of R&B, pop, Latin, African, soul, funk, jazz, rock and disco. The dynamic sound of their horn section known as The Phenix Horns (composed of trumpeters Michael Harris, Rahmlee Davis, saxophonist Don Myrick and trombonist Louis Satterfield), and the interplay between the falsetto of Philip Bailey and White’s tenor with the introduction of the kalimba (African thumb piano) impacted the sound of Earth, Wind & Fire making them hit-makers and a musical phenomenon throughout the world. Some of the awe-inspiring music that came out of Mr. White and Earth Wind & Fire’s illustrious repertoire was Sing A Song, Love Is Gone, Let’s Grove, Shining Star, Serpentine Fire, Boogie Wonderland, Fantasy, Jupiter, Saturday Nite, September, Star, Can’t Let Go, In The Stone and many others.
Maurice was the older brother of band member Verdine White and former band member Fred White. Many of the band’s songs were written and produced by Maurice who shared the status of lead singer with singer Philip Bailey.
White who formed the band in the 1960s, decided to to take a hiatus and disbanded the band until the late 1980s, when he again reunited the band members but shortly afterwards Maurice was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. White quit touring in 1994 and began making fewer public appearances. Although he was still with the band and continued to make his mark in a creative capacity upon the music world as a producer and songwriter.
During his career, White worked with several artists. He co-produced Deniece Williams with Charles Stepney on her album “This Is Niecy” and her second album “Song Bird.” He also worked with the girl group, The Emotions, co-producing their album “Flowers” and single “I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love” again with Charles Stepney. White produced Ramsey Lewis’ albums Sun Goddess, Salongo and Sky Islands. He produced Jennifer Holliday’s “Feel My Soul,” Barbra Streisand’s album “Emotion,” and Neil Diamond’s “Headed for the Future.” He co-wrote the song “Only In Chicago,” with Barry Manilow. He produced 2 albums by Urban Knights and James Ingram’s track “Much For This Heart.”
Maurice White released his own solo album entitled “Maurice White” in 1986, including a cover of Ben E.
King’s “Stand by Me.” His version of “Stand by Me” garnered #6 on the Hot R&B Hip-Hop Singles and reached Number 11 on the Adult Contemporary charts. White worked with Maurice Hines on the play “Hot Feet” writing several songs with Allee Willis, also writing songs for the movies “Coming to America” and “Undercover Brother.” He composed songs for the television series Life is Wild.
“I had the opportunity to work with Maurice White and found him to be a consummate professional and one of the nicest guys in show business,” said a media insider.
Maurice White is survived by his wife, two sons and brothers Verdine and Fred.
Our great artists are leaving us and with great sadness we bid farewell to Maurice White. As he said in his album Fantasy. I take poetic license and paraphrase: “You did stay for the play fantasy had in store for you. Your glowing light saw you through…You had your day…and what a shining day it was…You saw your dreams come true…And now you glide in your stride…gone with the heavenly wind…”
Deardra Shuler for Soulinterviews.com