Maurice White, founder and leader of iconic funk act Earth, Wind & Fire, has died. TMZ reports that he passed away in his sleep overnight following a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. He was 74 years old. White’s younger brother and bandmate Verdine White has issued the following statement via Facebook in response to his passing:
My brother, hero and best friend Maurice White passed away peacefully last night in his sleep. 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.
White was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1941. As a teenager, he moved to Chicago and began working as a session drummer for the legendary label Chess Records, playing on records by artists including Etta James, Muddy Waters, and the Impressions. He then joined the Ramsey Lewis Trio in 1966, leaving three later to form the Salty Peppers with his friends Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead.
After the release of the Salty Peppers’ second single, White relocated to Los Angeles and changed the group’s name to Earth, Wind & Fire after the elements in his astrological chart. He recruited a number of other musicians, including his younger brother Verdine, and signed to Warner Bros. Records, releasing Earth, Wind & Fire’s self-titled debut album in 1971. The group achieved commercial success in 1973 with the release of their fourth album Head To The Sky, which began a long streak of hit albums. Earth, Wind & Fire went on to sell 90 million albums worldwide and win six Grammy Awards, and they were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2000.
White served as Earth, Wind & Fire’s bandleader and produced most of their albums himself, drawing on funk, jazz, R&B, soul, pop, African music, and Latin music to create a distinct and recognizable sound. After being diagnosed with Parkinsons in the late ’80s, White stopped touring with the band, but he remained active as a songwriter and producer. In addition to his work with EWF, White wrote and produced music for Barry Manilow, Barbra Streisand, and the Urban Knights, and he released a self-titled solo album in 1985. Revisit some of his work below.