2010 Songwriters Hall of Fame Inductee Maurice White, one of the co-founders of iconic band Earth, Wind & Fire died Wednesday at his home in Los Angeles, his brother Verdine said.
The musician had been battling Parkinson’s disease since 1992, and his condition worsened over the past few months. In 1994, the disease forced White to stop touring with the beloved band.
Born in Memphis in 1941, White was the son of a doctor and grandson of a New Orleans piano player. He showed musical gifts at an early age, studying at the Chicago Conservancy. During the 1960s, he backed Muddy Waters, The Impressions and others and worked as a session drummer in Chicago.
He founded the band Salty Peppers in the Chicago area in the late 1960s and had some modest success in the Midwest. After relocating to Los Angeles, he and Verdine renamed the outfit Earth, Wind & Fire after the three elements in his astrological chart. The band’s early sound was jazzy, but evolved into an exuberant, horn-driven mix of jazz, funk, gospel and Big Band music. Their appeal wasn’t just on records but on stage, their concerts a whirl of dancing, fog machines, multi-colored lights and glittery costumes.
Earth, Wind & Fire ultimately became a nine-piece band featuring the two White brothers, singer Philip Bailey and the distinctive horn section, sold more than 90 million albums and created hits like “September,” ‘‘Shining Star,” “Boogie Wonderland,” “Serpentine Fire” and “That’s the Way of the World.” They received 20 GRAMMY nominations; winning six as a group, with Maurice White and Philip Bailey winning two awards each. The band was also awarded the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences Signature Governor’s Award. Earth, Wind & Fire have earned more than 50 Gold and Platinum albums and have been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (2000) and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (1995). They have received Lifetime Achievement honours from ASCAP (Rhythm & Soul Heritage Award - 2002), NAACP (Hall of Fame - 1994) and the BET Awards (Lifetime Achievement Award 2002).
Two Earth, Wind & Fire classic songs have been inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame: “That’s The Way of The World” (2004) and “Shining Star” (2007). The band is also known as having been the first African-American performers to sell out Madison Square Garden and to receive the MSG Gold Ticket Award. President Obama invited the band to perform at the White House for the first social event of the new administration.
Through the decades their songs have been covered by recording artists such as Jerry Garcia Band, D’Angelo, Patti LaBelle, Chaka Khan and many others.
Maurice White also had a substantial side career producing other artists, including Barbra Streisand and Cher. In the 1970s, he co-wrote and co-produced the Emotions’ No. 1 hit “Best of My Love.”