Known for his inventive style, White guided the group's spicy blend of jazz, R&B, funk, soul, pop, disco and even African sounds.
that way, but when I heard Maurice White had died at the age of 74, I almost succumbed to that indulgent, self-willed melancholy that has characterised 2016 so far.
Drawing on Egyptian mythology and imagery and exuding a heady, contagious positivity, he blended the Gospel, rhythm’n’blues, soul, funk and pop in which he was steeped during his late teens and early twenties as a session musician at Chess Records in Chicago.
The drummer, singer, composer, arranger and producer added a couple of irresistible touches to EWF – the blasting Memphis horns section, and the vocal interplay between Philip Bailey’s falsetto and his own rich tenor.
Along with the kalimba, the African thumb piano that featured on each of the group’s albums and trademarked their production company, these elements helped EWF stand out from the crowd of fellow travellers like Kool & The Gang.
They also made EWF chart mainstays and dancefloor fillers throughout the late 1970s and early ’80s with “Fantasy”, “September”, “Boogie Wonderland” (recorded with the Emotions and awarded a Grammy for Best R&B Instrumental Performance in 1979, one of six Grammys EWF received), “After The Love Has Gone”, “Star” and “Let’s Groove”, Transatlantic Top 20 hits that have remained radio recurrents and testimony to White’s genius as an all-rounder ever since. The whole objective was to try and inspire young people to believe in themselves and to follow through on their ideas,” said White.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1941, White grew up with musicians like Booker T Jones, later of Stax Records and the MGs fame, but was drawn towards Chess after his mother remarried, to a podiatrist, and moved to Chicago, where Maurice took up drumming.He also produced “Free”, the languid 1976 UK No 1 by Deniece Williams, co-wrote the slamming “Best Of My Love”, another British Top 5 smash for the Emotions in 1977, worked with Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond, and issued an eponymous solo album in the mid-’80s.He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a decade later and forced to retire from touring.From the time of their debut album in April 1971, Earth Wind and Fire moved into the upper echelon of the happening groups, moving up the charts and winning awards.In early 2000, it was revealed that White has been battling Parkinson's disease, making a rare appearance performing with his band at the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame induction with his band members and other fellow performers.He was, after all, my first musical hero and the band he founded, Earth, Wind & Fire, have been the foundation stone of the music in my life for over 30 years.Maurice White founded Earth, Wind & Fire (I used to wonder what he had against water – it’s an astrology thing, by the way) in 1969, but his musical chops go back way further.After a series of personnel and label changes, the classic line-up emerged in 1973/74 – nine colossal and complementary talents, guided by the mega-mind of White.He brought it all together: songwriters from inside and outside the band, balancing the virtuosos and voices of all nine members and countless associates."I had pretty much disappeared from the scene; a lot of people had not seen me in a long time, and they started wondering what was happening."The Recording Academy, which is set to award a Lifetime Achievement award to Earth, Wind & Fire at the 58th annual Grammy Awards on Feb.15, issued a statement expressing condolences."(White's) unerring instincts as a musician and showman helped propel the band to international stardom, influencing countless fellow musicians in the process," said president/CEO Neil Portnow.