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My Life with Earth, Wind & Fire Hardcover – September 13, 2016
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“[A] powerful and substantial memoir… The book is more than a chronological tale of a career; it’s a quest for meaning… The memoir captures a life of determination, positivity, and success tempered by depth and humility.” (Publishers Weekly)
“My Life with Earth, Wind & Fire is the candid and intimate odyssey of a man whose music and ideology continues to have an immeasurable influence on artists and audiences worldwide.” (Philadelphia Inquirer)
“[The] musical elements [of Earth, Wind & Fire] would not have existed without the singular drive of Maurice White. And his words here provide one magical, mystery tour.” (Houston Press)
“White’s book is practically a how-to manual for leading a band… Aspiring musicians could certainly learn a lesson or two.” (New York Times Book Review)
From the Back Cover
Earth, Wind & Fire was one of the most popular and significant bands of the past century, celebrated alongside Chicago, the Commodores, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, and Sly and the Family Stone. They transcended genres and fused diverse influences, from R&B to pop to jazz and beyond, earning multiple Grammy Awards—and most recently a Lifetime Achievement Award, shortly after the passing of the band’s founder, Maurice White.
Although many of White’s contemporaries and fans, including Quincy Jones, Questlove, and Diane Warren, felt a kinship with him through his music, he himself was an intensely private man. In this riveting account of his personal life and his massively popular band, he bares his soul.
Raised by a family friend, relentlessly teased by schoolmates, Maurice found refuge in music and in visits from God. By the time he was six, he was singing in a gospel choir. He came of age musically with close childhood friends and future legends Booker T. Jones and songwriter David Porter. Trained at the Chicago Conservatory of music, he later joined Chess Records, where he played drums for Etta James, Sonny Stitt, and countless others. With the Ramsey Lewis Trio he toured the world, honed his showmanship, and learned much about the music business, but after receiving what he believed to be a message from the Divine, he created Earth, Wind & Fire. It was a band like no other—sellout crowds were spellbound by their costumes, energetic movement, dynamic horns, floating pianos, spinning drum kits, and vanishing acts assisted by magician David Copperfield. The band’s performances were no less forgettable than their perennial hits: “Shining Star,” “Reasons,” “Got to Get You into My Life,” “September,” “Boogie Wonderland,” and “Let’s Groove.” Maurice also produced music for Deniece Williams, the Emotions, Neil Diamond, James Ingram, Barbra Streisand, and Jennifer Holliday.Maurice White’s story illuminates Earth, Wind & Fire’s position as a band essential to American culture, and offers an intimate look at his final days, from his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease to his faith, which helped him not only to cope, but also to savor every single moment. He dreamed that his band’s music, a reflection of the ideals of the 1970s, would inspire peace and unity across racial lines. This compelling memoir shows how he achieved that and much more.
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I kept seeing the name "Maurice White" in the liner notes, and kept wondering who this fellow was. Well, I soon began to understand Maurice's vision, when I went back to the EWF beginning and got my hands on every cassette of this band that I could find.
This comprehensive autobiography starts with the little known fact that White's birth mother placed his life in the hands of a caretaker that he would refer to as his "grandmother". This guardian instilled a love of Mahalia Jackson in young Maurice. An early upbringing in gospel led to a fascination with drums, and later a chance meeting with Booker T. Jones in junior high. From there, it was on to Chicago and Chess Records, and the chance of a lifetime with the Ramsey Lewis Trio.
When the early incarnation of Earth, Wind & Fire was melded in Los Angeles in the early-70s, White had a vision of a truly universal band. One that transcended basic musical styles and spiritual beliefs. This unique hybrid took a while to gel on the Warner Brothers label, but by the time the band reached Columbia Records, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame lineup of members was in place. The sound that would eventually make the group superstars was in motion.
While the dream of reaching the masses was fully realized, it was sometimes a burden for Maurice, especially the financial and business aspects of overseeing a band that was ultimately an international company. He talks about how MTV would not play black artists until 1983, when Michael Jackson broke the barrier. By then, the original incarnation of EWF was dissolving. The attempt to navigate the recording industry became a daunting task for a shy kid from Memphis.
With grace and courage, White unfolds the saga of the Parkinson's Disease that would slowly take over his physical abilities. Nonetheless, he soldiered on in the studio, while a revamped version of the band took the universally loved sound of The Elements on the road.
Although almost 400 pages, the book is a quick read. It is a perfect blend of personal stories, but also succinct production details and chart data that a music trivia "nerd" like me gobbles up. Virtually every album and single gets a brief overview at the very least, whether it is the globally embraced "That's The Way Of The World", or the well-intentioned but not well-received "Electric Universe".
Perhaps most fascinating is that Maurice White was truly a private person, who chose to let the music do the talking. What we have here is a revelatory look "behind the curtain", that makes the reader feel as if they've known this courageous and visionary icon all their life.