The 4th of February marked the passing of Maurice White, the founder of legendary soul-funk band Earth, Wind and Fire. It was a sad day for anyone that has been touched by the sweet, soulful sounds composed and performed by Maurice over the years, but really we should be celebrating the life of a fantastic musical talent.
This Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee started his musical career as a drummer in Memphis, Tennessee, and mixed with musical royalty from an early age – one of his childhood buddies was the sensational saxophonist and all round R&B supremo Booker T Jones.
After spending some time in Chicago, writing music for radio adverts with his friends Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead, White moved to Los Angeles, where Earth, Wind and Fire were formed in 1969. Four decades later and the band had won six Grammy awards from 14 nominations, as well as four American Music Awards. To date they have sold over 90 million albums worldwide.
Led by White, Earth, Wind and Fire transcended eras, audiences and production trends. Their crossover appeal was underlined by a memorable performance at the rock and roll festival California Jam in 1974. Welcomed with open arms by all creeds and colours, the band successfully traversed the gap from the 1970s to the electronic decade of the 1980s, staying relevant and producing quality releases.
White was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984, forcing him to take a back seat in the band’s performances, but this only led to him being a more influential force behind the scenes, as a producer and music industry figurehead. The breadth of artists that Earth, Wind and Fire have worked with over the years reads like a who’s who of the music industry, and is testament to the respect that White commanded.
Alicia Keys, Barry Manilow, Barbra Streisand, Phil Collins, Stevie Wonder, Neil Diamond, Chaka Khan and Angie Stone are just a small selection of the artists that worked with White in some shape or form. But more pertinently, it is likely that all of those artists would cite White as a musical influence. It is for this reason that White’s music will live on through the ages.
In an interview with the Chicago Sun Times in 1988, White gave perhaps the best explanation for his musical brilliance, saying: “I’ve got gospel in me, I’ve got blues, I’ve got rhythm and blues, rock, pop. I’ve got all of those inside me.”