Fred White, one of the two drummers for soul group Earth Wind & Fire during the most successful decade in its history, 1974-84, died Monday at age 67. No cause of death was given.
White was part of a family legacy at the ensemble’s core, as the brother of Verdine White and half-brother of Maurice White. Although long since departed from the group, in 2000 he was inducted with other core members into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Besides playing on classic EWF albums starting with “That’s the Way of the World” in 1975 on through “Electric Universe” in 1983, White also played drums on 1970s albums by artists including Little Feat, Donny Hathaway, the Emotions and Deniece Williams.
The death was announced by Verdine White on Instagram. “Dearest Family Friends and Fans….. Our family is saddened today with the loss of an amazing and talented family member, our beloved brother Frederick Eugene ‘Freddie’ White,” wrote Verdine. “He joins our brothers Maurice, Monte and Ronald in heaven and is now drumming with the angels! Child protégé, member of the EWF ORIGINAL 9, with gold records at the young age of 16 years old! He was brother number 4 in the family lineup. But more than that at home and beyond he was the wonderful bro that was always entertaining and delightfully mischievous!”
Continued Verdine White in his post, “And we could always count on him to make a seemingly bad situation more light hearted! He will live in our hearts forever, rest in power beloved Freddie!! We thank you all for your love, blessings and support at this time. Soar high baby bro, we love you to the shining [stars] and back!”
Some other musical giants weighed in with responses on Verdine’s post. “Sending my love and deepest condolences to you and the family,” wrote Lenny Kravitz. “I was blessed to have been in his presence and blessed to have been influenced by him. A true king. Rest in power.” Wrote Nile Rodgers, “Deepest condolences, love and respect.” “Love,” responded Questlove, simply.
The current edition of Earth Wind & Fire includes three members from the classic ’70s lineup: Verdine White on bass, Philip Bailey on vocals and Ralph Johnson on drums and percussion. Maurice White, the band’s leader, died in 2016. Another member from that key period, sax player Andrew Woolfolk, died in April 2022.
Johnson shared drumming duties with Fred White during their decade-long tenure in the band together. “Having two drummers onstage was key to the band’s big sound,” wrote Drum magazine.
Given Fred White’s young age compared to the band’s longevity, it may come as no surprise that the drummer entered music full-time as a teenager, meeting Hathaway at 15 and going on tour with him. That stint resulted in White’s presence on “Donny Hathaway Live,” considered one of the essential live albums of the soul era, before he ever joined his brothers in EWF.
On Instagram, the official EWF account shared a video of White doing a drum solo “during our performance of ‘Runnin’,’ during our Tour of the World in 1979, at Rockpalast in Essen, Germany. Rest in love.” Beneath that initial post, Verdine White apologized for having it serve as the first announcement of his brother’s death. “Friends and fans, sorry this information was posted before I could make an official statement,” wrote Verdine there. “Yes we’re all grieving the loss especially Fred’s family. Thank you for your love, blessings and condolences.”
Hard as it is to believe, given the enduring popularity of so many of the band’s songs, only one of their hits, “Shinin’ Star,” went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. But eight of their singles topped the R&B chart, including “September” and the Beatles cover “Got to Get You Into My Life,” both in 1978. Among their other top 10 singles on the Hot 100 were the 1979 hits “Boogie Wonderland” (No. 6) and “After the Love is Gone” (No. 2). “September,” which only reached No. 8 on the Hot 100, has been certified six-times platinum, by far their biggest-selling single.