Maurice White, Founder Of Earth, Wind & Fire, Dies At 74

Feb 4, 2016
Originally published on February 4, 2016 7:31 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The founder of Earth, Wind and Fire has died. Maurice White has Parkinson's disease for many years. He died at his home here in Los Angeles at the age of 74. NPR's Ted Robbins has this appreciation.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Earth, Wind and Fire's lush sound and upbeat lyrics were the essence of R and B and disco in the 1970s and '80s.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHINING STAR")

EARTH, WIND AND FIRE: (Singing) When you wish upon a star, your dreams will take you very far, yeah.

ROBBINS: "Shining Star" was the group's first number one hit in 1974. Maurice White wrote it as he did most of the group's hits. He was born in Memphis in 1941 and moved to Chicago as a session drummer for Chess Records. Eventually, he moved to LA where he formed Earth, Wind and Fire. In an interview for Fender Rhodes, he said his songwriting drew from jazz, blues and gospel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAURICE WHITE: And I would take the music that was very complicated chord-wise, and I put very simple hooks on it. And then would draw the ear, so that's really what my thing's all about.

ROBBINS: He drew your ear, all right.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S GROOVE")

EARTH, WIND AND FIRE: (Singing) Gonna tell you what you can do with my love, all right.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOOGIE WONDERLAND")

EARTH, WIND AND FIRE: (Singing) Boogie Wonderland.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEPTEMBER")

EARTH, WIND AND FIRE: (Singing) Do you remember 21 night of September?

ROBBINS: Those songs and more won Earth, Wind and Fire six Grammys and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Maurice White also worked with other artists from Weather Report to Barbra Streisand to Cher. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's in the late 1980s but he stayed active touring until the mid-'90s and running his production company, Kalimba. Ted Robbins, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEPTEMBER")

EARTH, WIND AND FIRE: (Singing) Ba da ya, say that you remember. Ba de ya, dancing in September. Ba de ya, never was a cloudy day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.