Maurice White, Founder of Earth, Wind & Fire, Dead at 74

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By Chris Hakkens
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By Chris Hakkens
Maurice White performing with Earth, Wind, and Fire at the Ahoy Rotterdam; 1982 Photo by Chris Hakkens

NEW YORK (BNN) — Maurice White, founder of the legendary nine-piece band Earth, Wind & Fire,  died Wednesday at his home in Los Angeles.  White had been suffering from Parkinson’s Disease for at least 15 years, and possibly going back to the ’80s    He publicly disclosed his illness back in 2000, when the group was inducted into the Roll and Roll Hall of Fame.  He was 74 at the time of his death.

The nine-piece band  featured Maurice and Verdine White, singer Philip Bailey, and arguably one of the greatest amalgam of horn players ever assembled. The group sold over 90 million albums and has many notable songs to its credit.

White started a band called the Salty Peppers in the Chicago area in the late ’60s.  He moved to Los Angeles and reformed the group with all new members (except Verdine).  Earth, Wind & Fire were elements of his astrological chart, and the name was a perfect reflection of the ’70’s cultural focus on peace, love and spirituality.

Bailey’s clear, strong falsetto voice was instantly recognizable, giving many of EWF”s earlier hits a distinctive vocal sound.

“We experienced pure magic together,” Bailey said during the band’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.

But the early sound evolved, and not long after, the horn section took center stage as the group mixed the big band sound with funk, jazz and gospel to produce a unique sound instantly recognizable as Earth, Wind & Fire.

In addition to his work with Earth, Wind & Fire, White produced other artists, including Barbra Streisand and Cher.  He also co-produced the Emotions’ No. 1 hit “Best of My Love.”

White was born in Memphis in 1941, the son of a doctor and grandson of a New Orleans piano player. He studied music at the Chicago Conservancy, worked in Chicago as a session drummer, and sang backup for Muddy Waters and the Impressions before starting his own group.