Maurice White‘s death is effecting me a lot more deeply than any musician I can remember (including Mr. Bowie and Mr. Frey). His music means so much to me personally. Although my Mom had some of his records I always roped EWF in with her other rather soft-rock taste (Carly Simon, 80’s Chicago… gulp… Manilow etc).
I was encouraged to deep dive into EWF through the mentorship of Rickey Vincent of #kpfa back in the 90’s. Before then I had only really studied the nastier, grittier funk of the protest movement. James Brown, P-Funk, the Meters, the other New Orleans stuff was all I really knew . Maybe I resisted the more polished stuff because I was still too young and angsty to surrender fully to music so joyous. Maybe I still associated them with my mother’s love of Barry Manilow and such. Either way I was missing out.
Rickey’s guidance helped cure me of this ignorance and I have been an almost religious fan of Earth, Wind & Fire ever since. I only had the good fortune to see Mr. White live once, at New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festivalin #congosquare in what might have been the most amazing single gathering of humans I have ever been a part of. To see a crowd of 30,000? 50,000 who were ALL doing the #hustle was something that will stay with me forever. Mr White’s voice soared above the entire city that day and we all felt we were flying with it. People sang. People cried. People did the butt. It was why we get together at all.
He soonafter had the most tragically ironic of maladies for a singer, throat cancer. We have to stop here and consider this. A person with as angelic and powerful a voice as anyone of our time. A person who (along with his family) devoted their music to peace, harmony, joyousness and goodness. An openly religious and spiritual person who made no bones about to whom he felt he owed his gifts. And THAT person is stricken with THROAT CANCER. It’s a tragedy of Jobian proportions and one would think it would have sidetracked his band in their nobel mission.
Alas it did not, and I have had the pleasure and honor of seeing EWF 5 times since then. Mr White certainly didn’t play along with his brother Verdeen and fellow vocal angel Phillip Bailey, but his spirit is EVERYWHERE at those shows. This past August, my roommate Jennifer McDowell and I celebrated our birthdays at Concord Pavilion with the incredible EWF/Chicago show. They are STILL the baddest band on the PLANET, ANYWHERE and I defy anyone to show me a better time doing ANYTHING than experiencing their performance. (OK, maybe E-Street but that’s another story) The audience in New Orleans was incredibly diverse, maybe 75% black. In Concord, it was 85% white. But the energy was 100% the same and this is a testament to the universality of their songs, their message, and their skills.
If Mr White has any legacy it is just that, a universal effect on virtually everyone, everywhere. I can think of few people who touched more people positively through his music than Maurice White and Earth Wind and Fire. I would take a bet that EWF’s songs have been played on radios and soundsystems more than any other artist. Their sound was They cross every boundary. Hell, I saw a disco cover band in a Hong Kong hotel bar covering Sing a Song last February.
How many people met their love on a dancefloor to their songs? How many danced their first dance as a couple to one of their songs?
How many conceived their children?
We are all Maurice White’s babies. His funky, happy, joyous, grateful children.
Rest in peace Mr. White. You finally found a chorus of your peers to sing with