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.The band posted the news on Twitter:
Our brother Maurice White passed peacefully in his sleep this morning.— Earth, Wind & Fire (@EarthWindFire) February 4, 2016
The light is he, shining on you and me. pic.twitter.com/ppWTHKUyG6
Maurice was born in Memphis, TN and grew up in the South Memphis projects along with his brother, Verdine, and friend Booker T. Jones.
As a teen, he moved to Chicago where he became a session drummer for some of the greats of R&B, blues and jazz including Etta James, the Impressions, Betty Everett, Buddy Guy and Sonny Stitt. Among his best known sessions were Rescue Me by Fontella Bass and Summertime by Billy Stewart.
In 1966, he joined the Ramsey Lewis Trio and played on nine of their albums including 1966's Wade in the Water and the classic 1968 set Maiden Voyage. He left the group in 1969.
His next stop was as part of the band The Salty Peppers with Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead, scoring a regional hit in the mid-west with La La Time. By the next year, White and the band had relocated from Chicago to Los Angeles, Maurice had asked Verdine to join the band, added a singer Sherry Scott and percussionist Yackov Ben Israel and changed their name to Earth, Wind & Fire.
By 1971, the band had signed with Warner Brothers and released their self-titled debut which included their first charting hit, Love is Life (1971 / #31 R&B / #93 Pop). They also were included on the soundtrack to the film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song.
The next year, the core of EW&F came together with the addition of Ronnie Laws, Roland Bautista, Larry Dunn, Ralph Johnson, Phillip Bailey and former Friends of Distinction singer Jessica Cleaves. A performance at Rockefeller Center in New York exposed the group to Clive Davis who bought out their contract for Columbia Records.
They continued to hone their membership and sound over the next two albums, Last Days and Time (1972) and Head to the Sky (1973) leading up to the first of two breakout hits. Open Our Eyes was released in 1974 and contained their first two top ten R&B hits, Mighty Mighty (1974 / #4 R&B / #29 Pop) and Kalimba Story (1974 / #6 R&B / #55 Pop). Then, the next year, came That's the Way of the World which broke their career wide open with the number 1 pop and R&B hit Shining Star.
That began a decade period filled with hit songs and albums, most of which were co-written and produced by White. He was the defacto leader of the group but, in the late-80's, tragedy struck when White was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. By 1994, he was forced to retire from performing but remained executive control of the band.
Outside of Earth, Wind & Fire, White worked extensively with Deniece Williams, the Emotions, James Ingram and many others.
Maurice White and Earth, Wind & Fire were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 and both the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and the Hollywood RockWalk in 2003. Maurice was inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 2010.
Everybody knows the hits of Earth, Wind & Fire, but these are the top twenty songs that Maurice White also wrote:
- Evil - Earth Wind & Fire (1973 / #50 Pop / #19 AC / #25 R&B)
- Mighty Mighty - Earth Wind & Fire (1974 / #29 Pop / #4 R&B)
- Kalimba Story - Earth Wind & Fire (1974 / #55 Pop / #6 R&B)
- Shining Star - Earth Wind & Fire (1975 / #1 Pop / #1 R&B)
- Sun Goddess - Ramsey Lewis & Earth Wind & Fire (1975 / #44 Pop / #20 R&B)
- That's the Way of the World - Earth Wind & Fire (1975 / #12 Pop / #5 R&B)
- Sing a Song - Earth Wind & Fire (1975 / #5 Pop / #1 R&B)
- Flowers - The Emotions (1976 / #74 Pop / #16 R&B)
- Saturday Night - Earth Wind & Fire (1976 / #21 Pop / #4 R&B)
- Best of My Love - The Emotions (1977 / #1 Pop / #1 R&B)
- Serpentine Fire - Earth Wind & Fire (1977 / #13 Pop / #1 R&B)
- Fantasy - Earth Wind & Fire (1978 / #32 Pop / #12 R&B)
- Smile - The Emotions (1978 / #102 Pop / #6 R&B)
- September - Earth Wind & Fire (1978 / #8 Pop / #41 AC / #1 R&B)
- Let Me Talk - Earth Wind & Fire (1980 / #44 Pop / #8 R&B)
- You - Earth Wind & Fire (1980 / #48 Pop / #30 AC / #10 R&B)
- And Love Goes On - Earth Wind & Fire (1981 / #59 Pop / #15 R&B)
- Let's Groove - Earth Wind & Fire (1981 / #3 Pop / #1 R&B)
- Wanna Be With You - Earth Wind & Fire (1982 / #51 Pop / #15 R&B)
- Fall in Love With Me - Earth Wind & Fire (1983 / #17 Pop / #4 R&B)
- Side by Side - Earth Wind & Fire (1983 / #76 Pop / #15 R&B)
- I Am Love - Jennifer Holliday (1983 / #49 Pop / #2 R&B)
- Thinking of You - Earth Wind & Fire (1988 / #96 Pop / #3 R&B)
- For the Love of You - Earth Wind & Fire (1990 / #19 R&B)
- Heritage - Earth Wind & Fire (1990 / #5 R&B)
- Sunday Morning - Earth Wind & Fire (1993 / #53 Pop / #35 AC / #19 R&B)
- My Baby Daddy - B-Rock & the Bizz (1997 / #10 Pop / #3 R&B)