Maurice White was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1941 to a father who was a doctor and occasional saxophonist. He grew up in South Memphis where he lived with his family in the Foote Homes Projects and was a childhood friend of Booker T Jones. In his teenage years he moved to Chicago and found work as a session drummer for Chess Records. While at Chess he played on the records of artists such as Etta James, Ramsey Lewis, Sonny Stitt, Muddy Waters, The Impressions, The Dells, Betty Everett, Sugar Pie DeSanto and Buddy Guy. White also played the drums on Fontella Bass’s Rescue Me and Billy Stewart‘s Summertime. In 1962, along with other studio musicians at Chess, he was a member of the Jazzmen which later became The Pharaohs.
By 1966 he joined the Ramsey Lewis Trio, replacing Isaac ‘Red’ Holt as the new drummer. Holt would go on to be a part of the Young-Holt Unlimited and bassist Eldee Young was also replaced by Cleveland Eaton. As a member of the Trio Maurice played on nine of the group’s albums, some of which include Wade in the Water, from which the track Hold It Right There won a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Group Performance, Vocal Or Instrumental, Goin’ Latin, The Piano Player, andDancing in the Street. While in the Trio he was introduced in a Chicago drum store to the African Thumb Piano or Kalimba and on the the Trio’s 1969 album Another Voyage‘s track Uhuru was featured the first recording of Maurice playing the Kalimba.
In 1969 Maurice left the Trio and joined his two friends, Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead, to form a songwriting team who wrote songs for commercials in the Chicago area. The three friends got a recording contract with Capitol Records and called themselves The Salty Peppers. They had a moderate hit in the Midwestern area with their single “La La Time” but their second single, “Uh Huh Yeah”, wasn’t as successful. Maurice then migrated from Chicago To Los Angeles and altered the name of the band to Earth, Wind & Fire which he formed in 1971.
Earth, Wind & Fire
With Maurice as the bandleader and producer most of the band’s albums EWF has earned legendary status winning six Grammy Awards and four American Music Awards, and selling over 90 million albums worldwide. As a member of the band Maurice has been bestowed with such honors of being inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, The Songwriters Hall of Fame and The NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame.
White and Philip Bailey (also from Earth, Wind, and Fire) performing in 1982 at the Ahoy Rotterdam, The Netherlands
White is responsible for incorporating the sound of the Kalimba also known as the African thumb piano and of a horn section namely the Phenix Horns and Earth, Wind & Fire Horns into the music of Earth, Wind & Fire. Due to his contraction of Parkinson’s Disease in the late 1980’s White stopped touring with Earth, Wind & Fire in 1994. He retains executive control of the band however and is still very active in the music business producing and recording with EWF and other artists. He has appeared sporadically on stage with Earth, Wind & Fire since his retirement from the road for instance at the 2004 Grammy Award’s Tribute to Funk and alongside Alicia Keys at Clive Davis‘s 2004 pre-Grammy award party where they performed the band’s 1978 hit “September”.
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