[Updated Feb. 5: An appreciation of White.]
BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
Maurice White, the co-founder of the Earth, Wind & Fire, passed away Wednesday at the age of 74.
White had not been in the public eye for years as he battled Parkinson’s Disease.
EWF bassist and White’s brother, Verdine, told the Associated Press in a statement, “My brother, hero and best friend Maurice White passed away peacefully last night in his sleep. 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.”
Earth, Wind & Fire has sold more than 90 million albums and created some of the most enduring funk-pop-rock-R&B hits in modern music, such as “September,” “Boogie Wonderland,” “That’s the Way of the World” and “Shining Star.”
The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 and is set to be honored with a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys on Feb. 15 – a tribute made all the more bittersweet now.
In a 2013 interview with the AJC, EWF percussionist Ralph Johnson talked about the band’s 21st studio album, “Now, Then & Forever,” which was the first that White wasn’t involved in.
“It is a little strange, but he put his blessing on it. He loves what he’s heard. What you really have to wrap your head around is (singer) Philip (Bailey) being able to walk in and produce this record behind (the legacy) of a Maurice White. You have to give Philip a lot of credit,” Johnson said.
Although Maurice White stopped touring with the band in 1995 because of his health problems, Verdine White, Johnson and Bailey continue to tour regularly with a truly dazzling live show. Last summer, EWF joined with Chicago for a tour that played Lakewood Amphitheatre in August and was among the year’s best.
Maurice White, who was born in Memphis, also had a noteworthy career producing other artists, such as Cher and Barbra Streisand. He also co-wrote and co-produced the Emotions’ No. 1 hit, “Best of My Love.”