Born in Memphis, Tennessee, on December 19, 1941, Maurice White became a founder of the band Earth, Wind & Fire. He was a guiding force behind the group's success and helped compose hit songs like "Shining Star" and "September." Following a diagnosis with Parkinson's disease, the seven-time Grammy winner stopped touring in the 1990s, but remained active as a producer and songwriter.
Early Life and Career
Singer, songwriter, producer and drummer Maurice "Reese" White was born on December 19, 1941, in Memphis, Tennessee. After studying at the Chicago Conservatory of Music, he found work in 1963 as a session drummer for Chess Records. Four years later, he began playing with the Ramsey Lewis Trio. In 1969, he formed his own band in Chicago, which was called the Salty Peppers.
Earth, Wind & Fire
After a move to Los Angeles, White renamed his band as Earth, Wind & Fire (the name was a nod to his astrological chart, which had no water signs). He also invited his younger brother, bassist Verdine, to join the group. When their first albums didn't break out, White shuffled the band's members. Newcomers included singer Philip Bailey and keyboardist Larry Dunn; soon guitarist Al McKay became a bandmate as well.
Along with its revamped membership—only White and Verdine were holdovers from the group's first incarnation—Earth, Wind & Fire's music changed. The band began mixing jazz, R&B, funk, soul and pop music. They also used African sounds, such as White playing the kalimba (an African thumb piano). With a new style and a new record label, Earth, Wind & Fire's album Head to the Sky (1973) sold more than 500,000 copies. The group proceeded to put out a succession of gold and platinum albums throughout the 1970s and early '80s.
Many of the band's hit songs were ones that White helped compose, such as "Shining Star," "September" and "Let's Groove." White won six Grammys with Earth, Wind & Fire, and received an award of his own for arranging "Got To Get You Into My Life." As a musician and vocalist, White also participated in the group's spectacular concerts, which featured exotic touches such as pyramids and disappearing acts.
Though he spent time on outside projects—such as an album for Deniece Williams—White remained with Earth, Wind & Fire until the band took a four-year break from 1983 to 1987. After reuniting, White toured with the group until 1995. Though he stopped touring, he continued to work with Earth, Wind & Fire as a producer and songwriter. He was also with the band for its 2000 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 2000, White revealed that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, thus explaining his decision to withdraw from performing. He has said that not going on tour gave him the benefit of having more time to work on other projects. These included building a recording studio and founding Kalimba Records, his own record label. He also collaborated on Hot Feet, a musical set to Earth, Wind & Fire songs. In 2010, White was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
With his health deteriorating in recent months due to his long battle with Parkinson's, White passed away in his sleep on February 3, 2016. He was 74.
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