Visionary band leader, drummer, vocalist and producer Maurice White - founder of Earth Wind & Fire - has died.
Visionary band leader, drummer, vocalist and producer Maurice White - founder of Earth Wind & Fire - has died aged 74. He had been suffering from Parkinson’s Disease since 1992.
Born in Memphis but from Chicago, White was a staff musician at Chess Records and the drummer in the Ramsey Lewis Trio keeping time on many of his hits since the mid 1960s. He once deputised for Elvin Jones with the John Coltrane Quartet at McKie's jazz club in Chicago. Later he moved to LA, forming Earth, Wind and Fire in 1969. Maurice was greatly influenced by the psychedelic soul of fellow Chess staff member, pianist and arranger Charles Stepney who worked with Earth, Wind & Fire but it was when they signed with recording giant Clive Davis at Columbia Records that they enjoyed major success from the mid 1970s. Their music was intrinsically linked to the African diaspora via the soul of Black America, employing Ancient Egyptian symbolism through to sci-fi imagery, searching lyricism and urban Griot tales. They made enduring hit records such as ’September,’ ‘Boogie Wonderland’ and ‘After The Love is Gone’ but their self proclaimed anthem was the reflective ’That’s The Way of the World’. Maurice White managed to keep his music incisive yet uplifting, precise and expansive. They were the original Philharmonic funkers with broad string arrangements and horns across the sonic range that spoke as one. The music of Earth, Wind and Fire would often contain a call to higher conciousness, peace and universal love.
Known to his friends as "Reese" Maurice White was the driving force and business mind for the band who’s famous percussive sounding Phenix Horns became the benchmark of American R&B. He became synonymous with the African thumb piano instrument called the Kalimba (known as Mbira) which would have been the first traditional African instrument heard by generations of the band's fans. They changed the face of Black popular music in 1970s America. He led them to astounding chart and touring success and produced hits for many, including Deniece Williams, The Emotions and a resurgent Ramsey Lewis.
With health problems White stepped away from live performance but always remained the director of the band’s sound which continues to this day with his younger brother, bassist Verdine White and original co-lead vocalist Philip Bailey. Maurice made a short performance with the band to accept a BET Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002 but sadly died just over a week shy of the GRAMMY’s special Lifetime Achievement Award for Earth, Wind and Fire on February 15th 2016.