Gone But Not Forgotten: Maurice White

December 19, 1941 - February 3, 2016


Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire. Photo: Eriik / Wikimedia Commons. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Maurice_White_75.jpgMaurice "Reese" White grew up in South Memphis, Tennessee, living with his grandmother in the Foote Homes Projects. As a child he made friends with Booker T Jones and started a band. White was the eldest of nine siblings, including musician brothers/bandmates Verdine and Fred White. His mother and stepfather lived in Chicago and White would occasionally visit them. White later moved to Chicago to study at the Chicago Conservatory of Music and played drums in the nightclubs in the evening. He became a session drummer for Chess Records in the mid 1960s and worked on the records of Etta James, Muddy Waters, The Dells, and more. White also played with the Jazzmen who later became known as The Pharoahs.

Maurice White joined the Ramsey Lewis Trio around 1966 when Isaac "Red" Holt left to form Young-Holt Unlimited. White recorded nine albums with the group including Wade in the Water, which won a Grammy for "Hold It Right There" in 1966. During this time he learned to play the kalimba - which would later become part of Earth, Wind & Fire's sound. He produced three of their albums. Maurice White left the Ramsey Lewis Trio in 1969 and formed a songwriting team known as the Salty Peppers, who wrote commercial jingles. In 1970, White played drums on Minnie Ripperton's album, Come to My Garden.

In 1971, Maurice White moved to LA and changed the name of the band to Earth, Wind & Fire. During White's position as band leader of EW&F, the group has received 20 Grammy nominations, won 6 as a group, and White has won his own. They also have 4 American Music Awards, are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, a Lifetime Achievement Honor from ASCAP, NAACP Hall of Fame, a BET Award Lifetime Achievement Award, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. White is also a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Earth, Wind & Fire has sold over 90 million copies of their albums worldwide.

White was an innovative musician who also expanded the group to include a full horn section. Earth, Wind and Fire was the first African-American group to sell out Madison Square Garden. Earth Wind & Fire's songs have been covered by many artists, including Patti LaBelle, Dionne Warwick, The 5th Dimension, Chaka Khan, 112, Musiq Soulchild and Tito Puente. Fans of the band include Miles Davis who described the group as his "all time favorite band" and Quincy Jones. Their music has been featured in movies such as Anchorman, Caddyshack, and more. Earth, Wind & Fire has had seven albums in the Billboard Top 10 and two #1 charting albums (That's The Way of the World, 1975; Gratitude, 1975). Their song "Shining Star" hit #1 on the US Billboard charts in 1975.

In addition to working with Earth, Wind & Fire, Maurice White was a well known producer. White co-produced Deniece Williams' debut album, This is Niecy, and produced her sophomore release, Song Bird in 1977. Maurice White also produced several albums by The Emotions, including Rejoice and Sunbeam; he contributed to production on Barbra Streisand, Emotion and also worked with Atlantic Starr and Neil Diamond. 

Maurice White retired from performing with Earth, Wind & Fire in 1994 due to complications with Parkinson's disease. Although he retired musically, he continued to control the band's interests and produced their music. He occasionally still appeared with the group at live events such as the 2004 Grammy Awards Tribute to Funk. He died in his sleep on February 3, 2016 from the effects of Parkinson's disease. White was married to his wife Marilyn and had three children (one daughter, Hamia, and two sons, Kahbran and Eden).

Photo: Eriik / Wikimedia Commons