Birthday: December 19, 1941
Died At Age: 74
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Also Known As: Reece, Moe
Born in: Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Famous as: Singer
father: Verdine White Sr.
mother: Edna Parker
siblings: Fred White, Verdine White
Died on: February 4, 2016
place of death: Los Angeles, California, United States
U.S. State: Tennessee, African-American From Tennessee
City: Memphis, Tennessee
Maurice White was a celebrated American musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer. He rose to international fame by being the bandleader of the band called ‘Earth, Wind & Fire’. The ‘water’ element did not feature in the name of the band as his astrological chart was devoid of any water signs. The band experimented with a variety of music styles like funk, jazz, soul, pop and some R&B. The influence of African sounds was evident and it helped to create some unique renditions, which were pretty appealing to the masses. Although Maurice had a hard time with his band initially, he did not give up and gradually he managed to revamp it with new members that included Philip Bailey (singer), Larry Dunn (keyboardist) and Al McKay (guitarist). His younger brother, Verdine, served as a bassist in the band. Being a highly talented musician, Maurice tried his best to make ‘Earth, Wind & Fire’ a great success by actively organizing concerts that enthralled the audience with exotic features like live disappearing acts and pyramids along with scintillating music.
Childhood & Early Life
Maurice “Moe” White was born on December 19, 1941 in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was raised by his grandmother in the Foote Homes Projects. He often visited his mother, Edna, in Chicago where she lived with his step-father, Verdine Adams, who was a doctor by profession and also an occasional saxophonist.
He completed his schooling from the Booker T. Washington High school, where he befriended Booker T. Jones and formed a “cookin’ little band”. Since he was drawn to music as a teenager, he moved to Chicago and enrolled in the Chicago Conservatory of Music. Also, he took an interest in playing drums at the local nightclubs in Chicago.
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In 1963, Maurice White was employed by Chess Records as a session drummer. He attracted attention by playing on the records of popular artists like Sonny Stitt, The Impressions, Muddy Waters, Fontella Bass, Etta James, Betty Everett, Buddy Guy, Billy Stewart, Sugar Pie DeSanto, etc. He was also an active member of the Jazzmen group aka The Pharaohs along with the other studio artists at Chess.
In 1966, White replaced Isaac Holt as the drummer for the famous Ramsey Lewis Trio. He greatly contributed to some famous albums like ‘Wade in the Water’(1966), ‘The Movie Album’ (1966), ‘Goin’ Latin’ (1967), ‘Dancing in the Street’ (1967), ‘Up Pops Ramsey Lewis’ (1967), and ‘The Piano Player’ (1969). In 1969, in the Trio’s ‘Another Voyage’ album, Maurice White deftly played the African thumb piano or kalimba in the track ‘Uhuru’.
Soon after in 1969, he formed his own band – ‘Salty Peppers’ along with his friends, Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead in Chicago and devoted himself to work for its success. His brother Verdine also joined the band. The band bagged a recording contract from the Capitol Records and recorded singles like ‘La La Time’ and ‘Uh Huh Yeah’ which were averagely rated.
After moving to Los Angeles, Maurice White changed the band’s name to ‘Earth, Wind & Fire’ from ‘Salty Peppers’ and the band was reformed with new members. With its new avatar, the band catapulted into fame under Maurice’s supervision as a bandleader and a producer. It was nominated 14 times and won six Grammy Awards and four American Music Awards and eventually gained a legendary status in the music industry.
The EWF (Earth, Wind & Fire) was also rewarded with its own star at the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame after the band’s albums sold over 90 million copies throughout the world.
As a producer, Maurice White released Ramsey Lewis’ albums like ‘Sun Goddess’ (1974), ‘Salongo’ (1976) and ‘Sky Islands’ (1973); Jennifer Holiday’s ‘Feel My Soul’ (1983), Barbra Streisand’s ‘Emotion’ (1984), Atlantic Starr’s ‘All in the Name of Love’ (1986), and Neil Diamond’s ‘Headed for the Future’ (1986).
In 1993, he was associated with the James Ingram’s album, ‘Always You’ that was noted for its hit track named ‘Too Much for This Heart’. In 2000, he was involved as the executive producer of Xpression group’s album – ‘Power’, along with Maestro Curtis.
Maurice White also produced two albums – ‘Urban Knights I’ (1995) and ‘Urban Nights II’ (1997) for the jazz group called The Urban Knights, featuring famous artists such as Ramsey Lewis, Paulinho Da Costa, Grover Washington Jr., Jonathan Butler, Verdine White and Najee. The albums featured on the Top Contemporary Jazz Albums Charts on the 3rd position and the 5th position, respectively.
In 2008, he acted as the executive producer for the album ‘Bringing Back the Funk’ that featured musicians like Larry Dunn, Ledisi, Maceo Parker, Larry Graham, and Bootsy Collins and eventually topped the Top Contemporary Jazz Charts at number one position.
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He was the official songwriter for the films – ‘Coming to America’ and ‘Undercover Brother’. He was also involved with the TV series, ‘Life is Wild’ and the Broadway play called ‘Hot Feet’.
Maurice White pioneered the use of kalimba in mainstream music by introducing it in the sounds of his band, ‘Earth, Wind & Fire’. He also expanded the band to include a full horns section called the Phenix Horns or the Earth Wind & Fire Horns.
In 1976, White served as the co-producer of Deniece Williams’ debut album – ‘This Is Niecy’ which featured on the R&B music charts at number 3. It was the first project of Maurice White’s and Charles Stepney’s production company called the Kalimba Productions.
In 1976 White and Stepney co-produced ‘Flowers’ by the girl group, The Emotions. It got featured on the Pop charts at number 45 and on the R&B charts at number 5. After Charles Stepney’s demise in the same year, White was solely responsible for producing the next album for ‘The Emotions’, which was named as the ‘Rejoice’. This was a huge success and it was featured at the 7th position on the Pop charts and at the 1st position on the R&B charts.
In 1978, the third album from The Emotions called ‘Sunbeams’ was released by the Columbia Records under the supervision of White.
In March 2007, he served as the executive producer of a tribute album to his legendary band ‘Earth, Wind & Fire’ that was named as ‘Interpretations: Celebrating the Music of Earth, Wind & Fire’. The album was a great hit and featured musicians like Chaka Khan, Kirk Franklin and Angie Stone.
Awards & Achievements
In 1976, Maurice White was nominated for the Grammy Award in the Best Instrumental Composition category for ‘Earth, Wind & Fire’.
In 1978, he won the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist for ‘Got to Get You into My Life’. In the same year, he was nominated in the Best R&B Song category for ‘Fantasy’.
In 1979, he was nominated for the Grammy Award for The Producer of the Year Award.
As a member of the ‘Earth, Wind & Fire’ band he won many accolades like inductions into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Songwriters Hall of Fame and The NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame.
Personal Life & Legacy
Maurice White was married to Marilyn and is survived by his wife, two sons and one daughter. He was the owner of two housing properties in California – one in Carmel Valley and the other in Los Angeles.
His younger brother, Verdine White, is still a part of the ‘Earth, Wind & Fire’ band as a backing vocalist and attends the tours as well. In 1974, another younger brother called Fred had joined the band during the recording of their album – ‘Devotion’.
On 4 February 2016, White expired in his sleep in his Los Angeles home, due to the long-term effects of Parkinson’s disease. He was 74 years old.