Maurice White, founder of Earth, Wind & Fire dead at 74

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Maurice White, the Earth, Wind & Fire leader and singer who co-wrote such hits as “Shining Star,” “Sing a Song” and “September,” has died, according to his brother, EWF bassist Verdine White.

He was 74.

“My brother, hero and best friend Maurice White passed away peacefully last night in his sleep,” Verdine White said in a Facebook post. “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.”

For several years in the ’70s and ’80s, EWF was one of the leading acts in America, with horn-driven, vocally intricate and often uplifting songs. White, who founded the group in 1969, was the guiding force behind its sound.

“I always envisioned a band which was self-contained, which could play many styles of music, and which could still create its own sound,” he told Songwriter Universe in 2007. “It was also great to feature a big horn section in the band.”

Noted Allmusic.com, “The band could harmonize like a smooth Motown group, work a simmering groove like the J.B.’s, or improvise like a jazz fusion outfit.”

But the horns were only part of the equation. White shared vocals with longtime member Philip Bailey, whose wide vocal range and gorgeous falsetto were a signature of the group.

Then there were the stage shows, as colorful and sometimes mystical as the group’s often unusual album covers.

It was all part of a joyful noise, White told Songwriter Universe.

“Being joyful and positive was the whole objective of our group. Our goal was to reach all the people and to keep a universal atmosphere — to create positive energy,” he said. “All of our songs had that positive energy. To create uplifting music was the objective.”

White was born in 1941 in Memphis and moved to Chicago as a teenager. As a session drummer for Chess Records, he played on records by such notables as Etta James and Fontella Bass before starting EWF.