After a 20-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, Maurice White who was the lead member of six-time Grammy winning 70’s group Earth Wind, and Fire has died. Mr. White died at his Los Angeles home and immediately after his passing was revealed to the world, he was the top trending subject on the popular Twitter website.
“My brother, hero and best friend Maurice White passed away peacefully last night in his sleep,” Verdine White, also a member of the band, told The Associated Press on Thursday. “While the world has lost another great musician and legend, our family asks that our privacy is respected as we start what will be a very difficult and life changing transition in our lives. Thank you for your prayers and well wishes.”
On Earth, Wind, & Fire’s official website, White was quoted as saying “We were coming out of a decade of experimentation, mind expansion and cosmic awareness. I wanted our music to convey messages of universal love and harmony without force-feeding listeners’ spiritual content.”
Having now sold more than 90m albums, Earth, Wind & Fire continue to record and perform but White retired from the group in 1995. He had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, although he concealed this fact for several years.
White was born in Memphis, Tennessee. His father, Verdine, was a doctor and saxophone player. By his teenage years, Maurice was living in Chicago and working as a session drummer for the influential Chess label, where he played with a range of musicians including Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, the Impressions and Etta James. One song on which he played, Rescue Me by Fontella Bass (1965), was a worldwide hit. In 1966 he joined a trio led by the jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis and went on to play on nine of Lewis’s albums: the 1966 song Hold It Right There won a Grammy for best R&B group performance.
White formed a songwriting team in 1969 with two other Chicago-based composers, Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead, who wrote music for television and radio commercials. Signing to the Capitol label, the trio called themselves the Salty Peppers and enjoyed moderate success with a 1969 single, La La Time. This was followed by a move to Los Angeles and a new band name, derived from three astrological elements. White’s younger brother, Verdine, a flamboyant bass player, joined the lineup a year later and remains a member. Another brother, Fred, also played drums with the band in its heyday.
It took until 1973 for Earth, Wind & Fire to find a mass audience: that year, the group’s fourth album, Head to the Sky, with its danceable, groove-heavy songs featuring horns and White’s kalimba, or African thumb piano, was the first of a series of huge-selling records.
Their 1978 cover of the Beatles’ Got to Get You Into My Life, injected with the band’s distinctive and inventive strident brass and guitar riffs, won a Grammy.
White was a prolific composer and producer outside Earth, Wind & Fire, working with Deniece Williams, a former vocalist in Stevie Wonder’s band, the fusion band Weather Report, Barbra Streisand, Cher and Neil Diamond. He collaborated with Barry Manilow on Only in Chicago (1980). A self-titled solo album (1985) included a hit single in the form of a cover of Ben E King’s Stand By Me. White also wrote songs for films including the Eddie Murphy vehicle Coming to America (1988), produced albums by the jazz group the Urban Knights and wrote arrangements for the British group Cleopatra.
He won seven Grammy awards, with the band or as an individual performer; Earth, Wind & Fire will receive the Recording Academy’s lifetime achievement award this year.
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