Produced in Memphis, Tennessee, on December 19, 1941, Maurice White became a creator of the group Earth, Wind & Fire. He was a directing force supporting the group’s success and helped compose hit songs like “Shining Star” and “September.” Following a diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease, the seven-time Grammy winner quit touring in the 1990s, but stays active as a producer and songwriter.
Four years after, he started playing together with the Ramsey Lewis Trio. In 1969, he formed his own group in Chicago, that has been called the Salty Peppers.
He also encouraged his younger brother, bassist Verdine, to join the group. When their first records did not break out, White shuffled the group’s members. Starters comprised vocalist Philip Bailey and keyboardist Larry Dunn; shortly guitarist Al McKay became a bandmate at the same time.
In addition to its revamped membership—just White and Verdine were holdovers from the group’s first avatar—Earth, Wind & Fire’s music shifted. The group started blending jazz, R&B, funk, soul and pop music. Additionally they used African sounds, like White playing the kalimba (an African thumb piano). The group carried on to put out a series of gold and platinum records through the 1970s and early ’80s.
A lot of the group’s hit songs were ones that White helped compose, like “Shining Star,” “September” and “Let’s Groove.” As a musician and vocalist, White also participated in the group’s stunning concerts, which featured exotic touches like pyramids and disappearing acts.
Though he spent time on outside jobs—such as an record for Deniece Williams—White stayed with Earth, Wind & Fire until the group took a four-year rest from 1983 to 1987. After reuniting, White toured together with the group until 1995. He was also using the group for its 2000 induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 2000, White disclosed he was identified as having Parkinson’s disease, so describing his decision to withdraw from performing. He’s said that not going on tour gave him the advantage of getting more time to focus on additional jobs. These included constructing a recording studio and founding Kalimba Records, his own record label. In 2010, White was inducted to the Songwriters Hall of Fame.