White’s health had declined in the last few months as a result of a long battle with Parkinsons disease, which had plagued him since the early 1990s and forced him to stop touring in 1994.
White founded the legendary funk-soul band in Chicago in the late 1960s alongside his brothers Verdine and Fred and served as the band’s chief songwriter and producer. He shared vocal duties with lead singer Philip Bailey. The group’s hits include “Shining Star,” which reached No. 1 in 1975, “September” and “Boogie Wonderland.” The band, which has sold more than 90 million albums worldwide, is set to be honored with a lifetime achievement award at the Grammy Awards on Feb. 15.
The musician has seven Grammy wins and 21 nominations under his belt. EWF was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. White also appears in the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame.
The large band was known for its elaborate stage shows that included lightshows, fireworks and elaborate dance moves.
White started out as a jazz drummer and played percussion instruments for the band as well as providing vocals with Bailey. He produced many of Earth, Wind & Fire’s albums and also produced for artists including Barbra Streisand.
Born in Memphis, White started singing in a church choir. He studied at the Chicago Conservatory of Music and began recording at the studios of Chess records with artists including Etta James. He joined Ramsey Lewis’s trio and then in 1969 formed the Salty Peppers with friends Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead. After moving to Los Angeles, he found more success when the band was renamed Earth, Wind & Fire. They had their first top 40 hit in 1974 with “Mighty Mighty.”
“My brother, hero and best friend Maurice White passed away peacefully last night in his sleep,” Verdine White told the Associated Press on Thursday. “While the world has lost another great musician and legend, our family asks that our privacy is respected as we start what will be a very difficult and life changing transition in our lives. Thank you for your prayers and well wishes.”
The band’s official Twitter said, “The light is he, shining on you and me.”