Maurice White started his music career as a session musician playing drums at Chess Records as part of the label’s studio band and was also a member of the Ramsey Lewis Trio. While at Chess Records he played on the classic hit “Rescue Me”, performed by Fontella Bass in 1965, ten years before he produced hits for Earth, Wind & Fire, the group he founded.
Before White departed from Chess Records, he became the bedrock of the rhythm section which developed the label’s new 1960s rhythm & blues sound that competed mainly with Motown Records. The rhythm section consisted of the late Louis Satterfield (bass), Leonard Caston (piano), Sonny Thompson (organ), Pete Cosey (guitar), Charles Stepney (vibes) and Gerald Sims (guitar).
All these men found various levels of success after leaving Chess Records, but White became the most successful of them all. He moved to Los Angeles in 1970 and set about developing a new group that he called Earth, Wind and Fire. After many changes of personnel and a move from Warner Bros to Columbia Records, the group’s fourth album “Head to the Sky” reached number two on the Billboard Top Soul Albums chart in 1973. It was a good sign, as better things were to come.
White experienced his first major success outside of Earth, Wind & Fire in 1975 as co-producer on the Ramsey Lewis gold-certified album “Sun Goddess”. The album did extremely well by topping the Billboard R&B and Soul Albums Chart at number one on May 24th 1975 (1 week). The album was number one on the Billboard Jazz Contemporary Albums Chart during the same period.
Around the same time, White finally took Earth, Wind and Fire to the top with the platinum-certified album “Open Our Eyes” and followed that with another great success with the group’s first number one on Billboard’s R&B and Soul Albums Chart with “That’s the Way of the World” in 1975. The album achieved the number one position on the Billboard 200 Pop Albums Chart on the May 17th 1975 (3 weeks) and the Billboard R&B and Soul Albums Chart listings on April 19th 1975 (3 weeks), returning to the top position on June 21st 1975 (3 weeks).
The album produced several number one singles in 1975 on different chart listings monitored by Billboard magazine. The first single was “Africano”, next was “Happy Feelin’”. Both were number one on the Billboard official dance chart. The final single to go to number one was “Shining Star”, on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart on May 24th 1975 (1 week). The hit single helped win Earth, Wind & Fire a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. During the same year the album earned the group a gold disc from the RIAA for 1 million copies sold in the United States. It was the third best-selling pop album and the number one best-selling R&B album of 1975 and has been certified triple platinum in the US by the RIAA for over 3 million copies sold in the United States. In 2003, the album was ranked at number 486 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Earth, Wind & Fire was first black band in Billboard history to top the pop albums and singles charts in America simultaneously. The album went on to sell in excess of 3 million copies in America.
Photo: Chris Hakkens 1982 (Wikimedia Commons)