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Maurice White Dies: Earth, Wind and Fire Founder Was 74

Image: Maurice White Dies: Earth, Wind and Fire Founder Was 74

Maurice White, left, and Phillip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire perform in 2002. (REUTERS/Adrees Latif)

By    |   Friday, 05 Feb 2016 07:35 AM

Maurice White, founder of Earth, Wind & Fire, the horn-driven band with hits like "September," ''Shining Star" and "Boogie Wonderland," died Wednesday. He was 74.

White, who suffered from Parkinson's Disease and had retreated from the public even as the band he founded kept performing, died at his home in Los Angeles, The Associated Press reported his brother Verdine White, also a member of the band, as saying.

Earth, Wind & Fire, a nine-piece band featuring the two White brothers, singer Philip Bailey and the distinctive horn section, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

The band's most successful period started with the 1975 album "That's The Way of The World" and continued through the rest of the decade. Other hits included "Serpentine Fire," ''That's the Way of the World" and a cover of the Beatles' "Got to Get You Into My Life."

White publicly revealed he had Parkinson's at the time of the band's Hall of Fame induction, but he had shown symptoms of the neurological disease back in the 1980s. He stopped touring with the band in 1995 because of weariness from the road combined with his health problems.

White said in an interview with the AP in 2000 that he wanted the band's music to inspire instead of just entertain.

"That was the whole objective, to try to inspire young people to believe in themselves and to follow through on their ideas," he said. "We've touched so many people with these songs."

A former session drummer, White founded the band Salty Peppers in the Chicago area in the late 1960s and had some modest success in the Midwest. After relocating to Los Angeles and ditching all of the band members except Verdine, he renamed the outfit Earth, Wind & Fire after the three elements in his astrological chart.

Bailey's bright falsetto defined many of Earth, Wind & Fire's hits. "We experienced pure magic together," Bailey said during the band's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, standing next to White.

The band's early sound was jazzy, but evolved into an exuberant, horn-driven mix of jazz, funk, gospel and Big Band music. Their appeal wasn't just on records but on stage, their concerts a whirl of dancing, fog machines, multi-colored lights and glittery costumes. Earth, Wind & Fire performed everywhere from the Super Bowl to the White House.

Maurice White also had a substantial side career producing other artists, including Barbra Streisand and Cher. In the 1970s, he co-wrote and 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 showed musical gifts at an early age, studying at the Chicago Conservancy. During the 1960s, he backed Muddy Waters, the Impressions and others and worked as a session drummer in Chicago.

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Maurice White, founder of Earth, Wind & Fire, the horn-driven band with hits like "September," ''Shining Star" and "Boogie Wonderland," died Wednesday. He was 74.
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Friday, 05 Feb 2016 07:35 AM
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