With a catalog of mega-hits which were meant to “inspire” instead of simply “entertain”, Maurice White and Earth, Wind & Fire (EWF) have encouraged millions of people throughout the world to believe in themselves and follow their dreams. As a singer, songwriter, producer and bandleader, Maurice White infused an eclectic, intricate and singular style into the band he founded, and turned out one of rock history’s most popular and musically accomplished groups of the 70s and 80s.
The Beginning of a Music Prodigy
Maurice “Reese” White was born in Memphis, Tennessee on December 19, 1941. The grandson of a piano player from New Orleans, the young White exhibited his musical talent early on, when he began singing in the church choir at the age of six. Yet, after watching a drum and bugle corps perform, Maurice was enthralled with their cadence and sound. He began to study drums and percussion, and thus embarked on a sensational career in music.
As a teenager, Maurice and his family moved to Chicago where the quiet, young musician attended the Chicago Conservatory of Music. While studying at the Conservatory, White made his debut as a session drummer when he was asked to sit in on the Betty Everett song, “You’re No Good.” After graduating from high school, Maurice worked at Chess Records, where he learned to master all styles of music. He was also a member of the Ramsey Lewis Trio, and a session drummer for Etta James, Fontella Bass, Muddy Waters, The Impressions, The Dells, and other Chicago-based artists.
Maurice White Founds Earth, Wind & Fire
While in Chicago, Maurice White cofounded the band Salty Peppers. His brother Verdine was bassist for the band, which had modest success for a period in the Midwest. The Salty Peppers disbanded in 1970 when Maurice and Verdine moved to Los Angeles and formed Earth, Wind & Fire (EWF) – a moniker symbolizing the three elements in Maurice’s astrological chart.
The White brothers along with singer Philip Bailey, centered EWF’s eclectic sound around a variety of music styles. The nine-piece band used funk as their foundation, but also incorporated jazz, gospel, psychedelia, blues, soul, African music, and disco to shape their innovative and unique sound. EWF’s distinctive horn-driven sound, Bailey’s dynamic falsetto vocals, intricate background harmonies, and Maurice’s incomparable songwriting talent set the band on a journey to unparalleled success.
The Defining Style of Earth, Wind & Fire
Earth Wind & Fire became infamous for their elaborate concerts featuring spectacular light shows, cosmic backdrops, and glitz that often mirrored the eclectic style of George Clinton, whose p-funk empire defined funkadelic music. Yet EWF’s sound radiated an uplifting and mystical spirituality which exuded positivity in an increasingly negative world.
The band released their debut self-titled album in 1971, and followed with The Need of Love the same year. They produced Last Days and Times in 1972, Head To The Sky in 1973, and followed with Open Our Eyes and Sun Goddess in 1974. Yet their 1975 album release, That’s The Way Of The World, launched EWF into a monumentally successful period.
During the decade that followed, Earth, Wind & Fire released over a dozen albums and chart topping hits including “September,” “Shining Star,” “That’s The Way of the World,” “After The Love Is Gone,” and “Boogie Wonderland.”
The Songwriter and Producer Lends His Talent to Other Artists
As a songwriter, Maurice White co-wrote for several other chart-topping artists, including The Emotions’ 1977 #1 hit, “Best of My Love.” He also produced work for Cher and Barbra Streisand. A master musician, Maurice arranged several songs, including The Beatles hit single, “Got To Get You Into My Life,” for Earth, Wind & Fire. White’s arrangement of the Beatle’s tune won a Grammy Award in 1979 for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s).
Maurice White was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1992. While the disease forced White to withdraw from performing and touring in 1995, he continued to work on several projects within the music industry. He built a recording studio and founded his own label, Kalimba Records. White also collaborated with Maurice Hinds on Hot Feet, a 2006 Broadway musical featuring the songs of Earth, Wind & Fire. 74-year old Maurice White died at his home on February 3, 2016.
Achievements of Maurice and EWF
Earth, Wind & Fire was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, and Maurice White was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010. White’s memoir, “Keep Your Head to the Sky: My Life with Earth, Wind & Fire,” is scheduled for release on September 13, 2016. Earth, Wind & Fire will also be honored at the Grammy Awards on February 15, 2016.
With nine platinum selling albums, six Grammy Awards, four American Music Awards, and album sales approaching 100 million, Earth, Wind & Fire – the brainchild of Maurice “Reese” White – is one of the best selling bands of all time.
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