Earth, Wind & Fire Founder Maurice White Dies at 74

Maurice White
Rex Features via AP Images

Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White died Wednesday in his Los Angeles home at the age of 74.

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.”

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    1. John A Breznican says:

      Another great artist will be sleeping with our Lord. God bless him and thank you for the tunes. I always loved EW and F.

    2. Kevin says:

      Some of the most memorable and cherished moments of my life during my teenage years in the seventies
      always seemed inexorably attached to the phenomenally enrapturing jams and ballads of “Earth, Wind & Fire” literally playing in the background. And ever the nexus of ultra cool was Maurice White, smiling like a
      cosmic sensei on album covers and in TV performances, surrounded by the equivalent of real-life musical
      superheroes.
      My absolute favorite time involving “EWF” didn’t happen until years and years later when I finally got to see
      them in concert in 2004. Regretfully, I was ten years too late to experience the true full glory of the greatest
      R&B band in music history since Maurice had retired from the group. Lead vocalist Phillip Bailey expressed a special nod that night to the group’s founder, whose incomparable, soulful essence somehow still felt as if it radiated from every chord and note of their concert from beginning to end.
      Rest well with the admiration and gratitude of so very many, Master White.

    3. TheBigBangof20thCenturyPopCulture says:

      40 years ago the music industry was at its most melodic and democratic and this guy was a major part of that with EWF. How far downhill we’ve gone from the sonic innocence of the 70s to thug trance music.

    4. Thank you for sharing your special gifts with us…I know your star will shine on us forever! Sending love and prayers to the White family…friends and colleagues…..a sad day in music history…but wgat a wonderful legacy! RIP MAURICE WHITE! 💖

    5. Jerald Bloom says:

      Always loved E W & F ‘s music and positive message..my dad had Parkinson’s Disease so I feel for him and family….now he is free from the physical and mental anguish that horrible disease renders…Bless you,…Shine like the star you are forever M…..Peace

    6. Dee says:

      One of the most uplifting bands ever. Peace be with you Maurice.

    7. Dex says:

      An innovative and true music pioneer whose legendary voice will be deeply missed. RIP.

    8. Painful to read this story. He was incredible.

    9. Rest in Peace Mr. White, truly one of the best to ever do it. #EWF

    10. Lisa says:

      This is so unfortunate. May he rest in peace.

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