Earth, Wind and Fire founder dies
By David Bauder And Hillel Italie
Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White, whose horn-driven band sold more than 90 million albums with hits like September, Shining Star and Boogie Wonderland, has 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.
“My brother, hero and best friend Maurice White passed away peacefully last night in his sleep,” his brother Verdine White, also a member of the band, said on Thursday.
Earth, Wind & Fire, a nine-piece band 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 on Thursday 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 Twitter, 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 founded the band Salty Peppers in the Chicago area in the late 60s 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.
The band’s early sound was jazzy, but evolved into an exuberant, horn-driven mix of jazz, funk, gospel and Big Band music. Their appeal wasn’t just on records but on stage, their concerts a whirl of dancing, fog machines, multi-coloured lights and glittery costumes. Earth, Wind & Fire performed everywhere from the Super Bowl to the White House.
Maurice White also had a substantial side career producing other artists, including Barbra Streisand and Cher. In the 70s, he co-wrote and co-produced the Emotions’ No. 1 hit Best of My Love.
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 music conservatory. 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.
White’s memoir, Keep Your Head to the Sky: My Life with Earth, Wind & Fire, is scheduled to be released on September 13 by Amistad.
Earth, Wind & Fire are to be honored at the Grammy Awards on February 15.