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Maurice White
Maurice White 1982.jpg
White performing in 1982
Background information
Also known as
  • Reece
  • Moe
Born(1941-12-19)December 19, 1941
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
OriginChicago, Illinois, U.S.
DiedFebruary 4, 2016(2016-02-04) (aged 74)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
  • Musician
  • singer
  • songwriter
  • record producer
  • arranger
Years active1961–2016
Associated acts

Maurice White (December 19, 1941 – February 4, 2016) was an American musician, singer, songwriter, record producer, and arranger. He was the founder of the band Earth, Wind & Fire; served as the band's main songwriter and record producer; and was its co-lead singer with Philip Bailey.[1]

White has been described as a "musical renaissance man" by Allmusic and a "maestro" by Billboard.[2][3] He was nominated for a total of 22 Grammys, of which he won seven.[4] White was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame as a member of Earth, Wind & Fire,[5] and was also inducted individually into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.[6]

White worked with several famous recording artists, including Deniece Williams, the Emotions, Barbra Streisand, and Neil Diamond. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in the late 1980s, which led him eventually to stop touring with Earth, Wind & Fire in 1994. He retained executive control of the band and remained active in the music business until his death in February 2016.


Early career

White was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on December 19, 1941.[1] He grew up in South Memphis, where he lived with his grandmother in the Foote Homes Projects and was a childhood friend of Booker T Jones and David Porter.[7] Along with Jones, White formed a "cookin' little band" while attending Booker T. Washington High School. He also made frequent trips to Chicago to visit his mother, Edna, and stepfather, Verdine Adams, who was a doctor and occasional saxophonist.[8][9] During his teenage years, White moved to Chicago where he studied at the Chicago Conservatory of Music, and played drums in local nightclubs. By the mid-1960s he found work as a session drummer for Chess Records. While at Chess, he played on the records of artists such as Etta James, Chuck Berry, Sonny Stitt, Muddy Waters, the Impressions, the Dells, Betty Everett, Sugar Pie DeSanto and Buddy Guy.[10][1] White also played the drums on Fontella Bass's "Rescue Me", Billy Stewart's "Summertime" and Jackie Wilson's (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.[11][12] In 1962, along with other studio musicians at Chess, he was a member of the Jazzmen, who later became the Pharaohs.[13]

By 1966, he joined the Ramsey Lewis Trio, replacing Isaac "Red" Holt as the drummer. Holt and bassist Eldee Young left to form Young-Holt Unlimited with pianist Hysear Don Walker.[14] Young was replaced by Cleveland Eaton.[15] As a member of the Trio, Maurice played on several of their albums. One of these was 1966's Wade in the Water. The album track "Hold It Right There" went on to win a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Group Performance, Vocal or Group .[16] With the Trio White also played on 1966's The Movie Album and Goin' Latin of 1967. He also performed on The Trio's 1968 LPs Dancing in the Street, Up Pops Ramsey Lewis and Maiden Voyage. While in the group White was introduced in a Chicago drum store to the African thumb piano or kalimba. With this so the track "Uhuru" upon the Trio's 1969 LP Another Voyage' featured the first recording of White playing the kalimba.[1][17][18]

In 1969, White left the Trio and joined his two friends, Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead, to form a songwriting team who wrote songs for commercials in the Chicago area. The three friends got a recording contract with Capitol Records and called themselves the Salty Peppers. They had a moderate hit in the Midwest area with their single "La La Time",[19] but their second single, "Uh Huh Yeah", was not as successful. White then moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, and altered the name of the band to Earth, Wind & Fire, the band's new name reflecting the elements in his astrological chart.[19]

Earth, Wind & Fire

With Maurice as the bandleader and producer of most of the band's albums, EWF earned legendary status winning six Grammy Awards out of a staggering 17 nominations,[20] a star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame, and four American Music Awards.[6] The group's albums have sold over 90 million copies worldwide.[1][6] Other honors bestowed on Maurice as a member of the band included inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, The Songwriters Hall of Fame and The NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame.[21][22]

Maurice White in Munich, Germany in 1975
Maurice White in Munich, Germany in 1975

White brought the kalimba into mainstream use by incorporating its sound into the music of Earth, Wind & Fire.[18] He was also responsible for expanding the group to include a full horn section at first being the Phenix Horns and then the Earth, Wind & Fire Horns. White eventually retired from touring in 1996. He retained executive control of the band and was still very active in the music business, producing and recording with the band and other artists.[23]

A website entitled was also set up in 1999 in honour of Maurice. Maurice later spoke of an ongoing affliction with Parkinson's disease. Artistes such as Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Boyz II Men, Smokey Robinson, Isaac Hayes, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine posted messages upon the site for White.[24]

From time to time he appeared on stage with Earth, Wind & Fire at several events such as the 2004 Grammy Awards Tribute to Funk. He also performed alongside Alicia Keys at Clive Davis's 2004 pre-Grammy awards party where they performed the band's 1978 hit "September".[25][26]

Deniece Williams

White went on to co-produce, with Charles Stepney, Deniece Williams' debut album, This Is Niecy, which was released in 1976 on Columbia Records. Williams was a former backup vocalist for Stevie Wonder's band Wonderlove. The album was the first for Kalimba Productions, a production company also established by White and Stepney in 1976.[27] This Is Niecy rose to Nos. 3 & 33 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums and Billboard 200 charts.[28][29] As well an album cut entitled Free got to Nos. 25, 2 & 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Hot Soul Songs and UK Singles charts respectively.[30][31][32] This Is Niecy has also been certified Gold in the US by the RIAA and Silver in the UK by the BPI.[33][34]

A few months after the release of This Is Niecy, Charles Stepney passed away. White went on to solely produce Williams' sophomore album Song Bird, released in 1977.[1][35] The album rose to No. 23 on the Billboard Top R&B Albums chart.[36] The single "Baby, Baby My Love's All for You" got to Nos. 13 & 32 on the Billboard Hot Soul Songs and UK Singles charts respectively.[32][37]

Williams later issued on Columbia Records for Kalimba Productions albums being 1978's That's What Friends Are For and 1979's When Love Comes Calling. White also lent his vocals to 'When Love Comes Calling'. As well Williams issued 1981's My Melody and 1982's Niecy on Columbia and Kalimba respectively.[38][39] In a 2007 interview Deniece says: "I loved working with Maurice White ... he taught me the business of music, and planning and executing a plan and executing a show."[27]

The Emotions

After Stax Records became embroiled in financial problems, the girl group the Emotions looked for a new contract and found one with Columbia Records. With Charles Stepney co-producing with White, their third studio album entitled Flowers was issued in 1976. The album got to No. 5 on the Billboard Top Soul albums chart.[40][41] Flowers has also been certified gold in the US by the RIAA.[42] An album cut entitled "Flowers" got to No. 16 on the Billboard R&B Songs charts. Another single being "I Don't Wanna Lose Your Love" got to Nos. 13 & 4 on the Billboard R&B and Dance Club Songs charts respectively.[43][44][45]

Following Charles Stepney's death in 1976,[27] White took over producing the Emotions, and the album Rejoice was released in 1977. Rejoice peaked at number 7 and number 1 on the Pop and R&B charts respectively, and spawned the singles "Best of My Love" and "Don't Ask My Neighbors", which reached number 1 on the Pop and R&B charts and top ten on the R&B charts respectively.[46] "Best of My Love" won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance By a Duo or Group with Vocals[47], and an American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Single. "Best Of My Love" was also the third biggest pop single of 1977, and has been certified platinum. Rejoice was the third biggest R&B album of 1977 and has been certified platinum.[citation needed]

In 1978, The Emotions released their third Columbia album, Sunbeam. It reached number 12 on the top R&B album charts and spawned the number 6 R&B single "Smile". Sunbeam has been certified gold by the RIAA. In 1979 Earth, Wind & Fire collaborated with the Emotions on the single "Boogie Wonderland" which reached number 6 and number 2 on the Pop and R&B charts and has been certified gold for sales of over a million copies.[48][49] The Emotions also received an American Music Award nomination for Favorite Soul/R&B Band, Duo or Group in 1979.[50]

As well White produced the girl group's 1979 LP Come into Our World which was released on his own Columbia imprint ARC Records. The album rose to No. 35 on the Billboard Top R&B Albums chart. The album cut What's the Name of Your Love? also rose to no. 30 in the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart.[51][52][53] During 1981 the album New Affair was issued by the Emotions once again under white's production.[43][54]

Work with other artists

White also worked with several other famous recording artists. As such he played the drums on Minnie Riperton's 1970 debut album, Come to My Garden.[55] White also went on to produce Ramsey Lewis' 1975 & 1976 albums Sun Goddess and Salongo.[56][57] He also guested on Weather Report's 1978 album Mr. Gone. White went on to collaborate with gospel artist Walter Hawkins's on his 1980 album The Hawkins Family.[58] Additionally he co-wrote the song "Only In Chicago" with Barry Manilow from his 1980 platinum album Barry.[59][60][61] He also guested on the Tubes 1982 album Outside Inside.[62]

White produced Jennifer Holliday's Grammy nominated 1983 LP Feel My Soul.[63][64] As a composer he worked with English band ABC on their debut 1983 album The Lexicon of Love which went Gold and platinum in the UK and US respectively.[65][66][67] White also produced Barbra Streisand on her 1984 Platinum album Emotion, Atlantic Starr on their 1986 Platinum LP All in the Name of Love and Neil Diamond on his 1986 Gold album Headed for the Future.[68][69][70][71][72][73]

White also produced Ramsey Lewis's 1985 album Fantasy. The album reached No. 13 on the Cashbox Jazz Albums chart.[74][75][76] He later served as a guest artist on Lee Ritenour's Grammy nominated 1986 album Earth Run[77][78] and Cher's 1987 self-titled platinum LP.[79][80] As well he played percussion and coproduced Ramsey Lewis's 1987 album Keys to the City.[81][82] White later featured on singer Eleanor's 1988 single "Adventure" which rose to number one on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart.[83][84]

As well he produced Ramsey Lewis's 1993 album Sky Islands.[85] The album rose to No. 6 on the Billboard Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart.[86] White went on to produce the debut album of the jazz group Urban Knights released in 1995 by GRP Records. Urban Knights I featured Ramsey Lewis, Brazilian percussionist Paulinho Da Costa, and American jazz saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr.. The album rose to No. 5 on the Billboard Jazz Albums charts.[87][88] During 1996 White also established his own record label entitled Kalimba Records.[89][90]

The Urban Knight's sophomore album Urban Knights II was again produced by Maurice. Urban Knights II featured appearances by Ramsey Lewis, Paulinho Da Costa, EW&F's bassist Verdine White, singer-songwriter and guitarist Jonathan Butler and jazz saxophonist Najee. The album got to No. 7 on the Billboard Jazz Albums charts.[91][92] White also arranged for the British girl group Cleopatra on their 1998 album Comin' Atcha!. Comin' Atcha peaked at number 20 on the UK albums chart and was certified Silver in the UK by the BPI.[93][94][95]

White also executively produced saxophonist Paul Taylor's 2000 LP Undercover. The album got to No. 6 on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart.[96][97] He also featured as a guest artist on Jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum's 2003 album Into My Soul.[98] As well White guested with French jazz band Nojazz on the tracks "Nobody Else" and "Kool" off their 2006 album Have Fun. "Kool" marked the first time White collaborated with his friend Stevie Wonder.[99]

White served as the executive producer of an EWF tribute album entitled Interpretations: Celebrating The Music Of Earth, Wind & Fire which was released in March 2007 by Stax Records. The album rose to no. 28 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. On the LP were featured artists such as Chaka Khan, Musiq Soulchild, Kirk Franklin and Angie Stone. From that album Dwele's remake of "That's The Way Of The World" and Meshell Ndegeocello's cover of "Fantasy" were both Grammy nominated for Best Urban/Alternative Performance.[100][101][102][103]

White was executive producer for jazz musician Brian Culbertson's album Bringing Back The Funk which was released in 2008. The album features, among others, White, former EW&F member Larry Dunn, Bootsy Collins, Larry Graham, Ledisi, Musiq Soulchild, Maceo Parker and Gerald Albright. Bringing Back The Funk went to No. 1 on the Top Contemporary Jazz Charts and stayed there for two weeks. Culbertson revealed in an interview that he is "...still in disbelief. I have learned so much from (Maurice) and he actually said that he learned a lot from me. It was incredible to work with him."[104]

Solo work

In 1985, White released a solo album entitled Maurice White. The album rose to number 12 in the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. Appearing upon the LP was a cover of Ben E. King's "Stand by Me". With a guest appearance by jazz saxophonist Gerald Albright White's version of "Stand by Me" got to numbers 6 and 11 on the Billboard Hot R&B Singles and Adult Contemporary Songs charts respectively.[105][106][107]

Another album cut "I Need You" rose to nos. 20 & 30 upon the Adult Contemporary Songs and Hot R&B Singles charts respectively.[108][109]

Screen and stage

White wrote songs for the movies Coming to America, A Low Down Dirty Shame, and Undercover Brother. He also composed music for the television series Life Is Wild.[110] During 2006 he worked with Gregory Hines' brother, Maurice upon the Broadway play Hot Feet. White and Allee Willis also wrote several new songs for the play.[111]

In the movie BAADASSSSS!, the actor Khalil Kain portrayed a young Maurice White leading the early incarnation of Earth, Wind & Fire.[112] Released at the Sundance Film Festival,[113] the film was based on Melvin Van Peebles' struggles to film and distribute the movie Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. His son, Mario Van Peebles both directed the film and portrayed his father in the lead role.[114] White also won an ASCAP Award as a composer of, "That's The Way Of The World", with it being a theme song of the sitcom Hearts Afire.[115][116]

Personal life

Maurice's younger brother, Verdine, an original member of Earth, Wind & Fire, still tours with the band as its bassist and a backing vocalist.[117] Additionally, their brother Fred joined the band in 1974, when the band recorded "Devotion". Maurice was a married father of three and owned two homes in California; one in Carmel Valley, and the other, a four-level condominium in Los Angeles.[118][119] As recorded in his obituary, his parents, Dr. and Mrs. Verdine Adams, Sr., MD, had a total of ten children, and Maurice White was the oldest. He was affectionately called Reese by many of his brothers and sisters, according to his obituary which was distributed at his Memorial Service held at Agape International Spiritual Center March 22, 2016 in California.


White died in his sleep from the effects of Parkinson's disease at his home in Los Angeles, California, on the morning of February 4, 2016. He was 74 years old.[120][121][122] He was surrounded by his wife, Marilyn White; sons Kahbran and Eden; daughter Hamia (nicknamed MiMi on his obituary); brothers Verdine, Fred, Monte, and Ron; and sister Jeri. As written in his obituary, he was the eldest of nine siblings.[123]

His brother Verdine posted the following on Facebook:

Awards and honors

Grammy Awards

The Grammy Awards are awarded annually by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of the United States. Altogether White received seven Grammys from 20 nominations. As well he won once and was nominated five times as an individual performer.[4][5]

Year Nominee/work Award Result
1976 "Earth, Wind & Fire" Best Instrumental Composition Nominated
"Best of My Love" Best Rhythm & Blues Song Nominated
1978 "Got to Get You into My Life" Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) Won
"Fantasy" Best R&B Song Nominated
1979 "Maurice White" Producer of the Year Nominated

Other awards


On September 13, 2016, White's autobiography, Maurice White: My Life With Earth, Wind & Fire, by Maurice White and Herb Powell, was released, including a foreword by Steve Harvey and an afterword by David Foster.

See also


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External links

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