Obituary: Maurice White, Earth Wind & Fire founder

Maurice White. Picture: Getty ImagesMaurice White. Picture: Getty Images
Maurice White. Picture: Getty Images
Maurice White, singer songwriter. Born 19 December, 1941 in Memphis, US. Died: 3 February, 2016 aged 74

Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White, whose horn-driven band sold more than 90 million albums and made hits like September, Shining Star and Boogie Wonderland, died at his home in Los Angeles.

White, who was 74, suffered from Parkinson’s Disease and had retreated from the public even as the band he founded kept performing.

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Earth, Wind & Fire, a nine-piece band centred featuring the two White brothers, singer Philip Bailey and the distinctive horn section, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. The band’s most successful period started with the 1975 album That’s The Way of The World and continued through the rest of the decade. Other hits included Serpentine Fire, That’s the Way of the World and a cover of the Beatles’ Got to Get You Into My Life.

Chris Rock tweeted his condolences with a photo of White and the lyrics, You can’t hide love. Nile Rogers called White “one of the most amazing innovators of all time” on the social media platform, while Diane Warren said “this world just got a lot less soulful”.

White publicly revealed he had Parkinson’s at the time of the band’s Hall of Fame induction, but he had shown symptoms of the neurological disease back in the 1980s. He stopped touring with the band in 1995 because of weariness from the road combined with his health problems.

White said in 2000 that he wanted the band’s music to inspire instead of just entertain. “That was the whole objective, to try to inspire young people to believe in themselves and to follow through on their ideas,” he said.

“We’ve touched so many people with these songs.”

A former session drummer, White founded the band Salty Peppers in the Chicago area in the late 1960s and had some modest success in the Midwest. After relocating to Los Angeles and ditching all of the band members except Verdine, he renamed the outfit Earth, Wind & Fire after the three elements in his astrological chart.

Bailey’s bright falsetto defined many of Earth, Wind & Fire’s hits. “We experienced pure magic together,” Bailey said during the band’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, standing next to White.

Maurice White also had a substantial side career producing other artists, including Barbra Streisand and Cher. In the 1970s, he co-wrote and co-produced the Emotions’ No. 1 hit “Best of My Love.”

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White was born in Memphis in 1941, the son of a doctor and grandson of a New Orleans piano player. He showed musical gifts at an early age, studying at the Chicago Conservancy. During the 1960s, he backed Muddy Waters, the Impressions and others and worked as a session drummer in Chicago.

The band performed in the movie, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and had hits with the ballad After the Love Has Gone, All ‘n’ All, Let’s Groove and Fall in Love With Me. The band took a four-year hiatus in the 1980s and then returned, its primary success then on the road.

“We live in a negative society,” White told Newsweek at the height of the band’s success. “Most people can’t see beauty and love. I see our music as medicine.”

White’s memoir, “Keep Your Head to the Sky: My Life with Earth, Wind & Fire,” is to be released in September by Amistad.

The book features a forward by Steve Harvey and an afterword by David Foster.