R.I.P. Maurice White, Earth, Wind & Fire founder dead at 74

The band's principal songwriter had been battling Parkinson's disease

Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire
Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire, photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns

    Maurice White, co-founder and mastermind of legendary R&B/funk band Earth, Wind & Fire, has died, according to The Associated Press. He was 74 years old.

    White was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1992. The disease forced him to retire from touring, but he remained in control of the band’s creative and business decisions up until his death. According to TMZ, White’s Parkinson’s worsened in recent months, and he passed away in Los Angeles on Thursday.

    In 1969, White teamed up with friends Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead to form a songwriting team called Salty Peppers. After recruiting several other musicians, including his brother Verdine, White evolved Salty Peppers into a full band under the name of Earth, Wind & Fire. Within a year, the band released their self-titled debut to critical acclaim. That album was quickly followed up a year later with The Need of Love.


    In 1972, inner band turmoil led to White recruiting an entirely new lineup featuring vocalist Jessica Cleaves, Ronnie Laws on the flute and saxophone, rhythm guitarist Roland Bautista, keyboardist Larry Dunn, percussionist Ralph Johnson, and vocalist Philip Bailey. They quickly secured a record deal with CBS/Columbia Records and released Last Days and Time. The following year brought another album, Head to the Sky, along with the band’s first two hit singles in “Evil” and “Keep Your Head to the Sky”.

    1974 saw another round of lineup changes as well as another album. Open Your Eyes proved to be a commercial success, achieving platinum status thanks to singles like “Mighty Mighty” and “Devotion”. Its follow-up, That’s the Way of the World, proved even more successful. Initially conceived as a soundtrack for the 1975 film of the same name, of which the members of Earth, Wind & Fire had roles, the band chose to release the album as a standalone release after the film bombed commercially. That’s the Way of the World achieved No. 1 status on the Billboard Pop Album charts. Its tracklist contained two Top 15. singles: “Shining Star”, which hit No. 1 and won the Grammy for Best R&B Performance, and “That’s the Way of the World”.

    A year later, Earth, Wind & Fire earned another Grammy nomination for “Gratitude”, the title track to their 1976 album. Their cover of The Beatles’ “Got to Get You into My Life” also earned a Grammy nod and was included in the soundtrack to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band film.


    Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, Earth, Wind & Fire continued to dominate the charts with a string of hit singles, including “September”, “In the Stone”, “After the Love Has Gone”, “Boogie Wonderland”, “Let’s Groove”, and “Wanna Be with You”.

    Earth, Wind & Fire would ultimately take a hiatus 1983, but White remained a prolific force in music. He produced for Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, and Cher, and also released his own solo album in 1985.

    White reunited with Earth, Wind & Fire in 1987, leading to the release of the Grammy-nominated album Touch the World. Unfortunately, the early ’90s were mired in tragedy, as the band’s saxophonist, Phoenix Horns, was fatally shot by Los Angeles Police in 1993, and lead vocalist Wade Flemons died of cancer in 1994. Also in 1994, White announced his retirement from touring due to an ongoing battle with Parkinson’s.


    To date, Earth, Wind & Fire have earned 20 Grammy nominations, winning six as a group and two as individual members, and have sold 100 million records worldwide. Despite his battle with Parkinson’s, White reunited with Earth, Wind & Fire for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

    Below, revisit some of Earth, Wind & Fire’s greatest hits, a video of their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and watch an interview with White from 1983.