'A Teacher, A Preacher, The Greatest Friend': Earth, Wind & Fire's Verdine White and Philip Bailey Remember Maurice White (Exclusive)

Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire
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Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire photographed in 1986 in Los Angeles, California.  

Maurice White, who founded Earth, Wind & Fire in 1969 and helmed the group for 47 years (and 32 Hot 100 hits), until his death on Feb. 4, after a decades-long struggle with Parkinson’s disease. He is remembered here by his brother, bassist Verdine White, and singer Philip Bailey, both of whom joined the group in the early 1970s and lead it today.

Verdine White: Maurice made Earth, Wind & Fire out of the clay of his soul. 

Through his music and how he lived his life, he inspired all of us. I had no idea, when I came to Los Angeles as an 18-year-old to join the band, that my life would change so profoundly.

He taught me the greatest lessons of my life … the real values: love, kindness and compassion. Whenever we would accomplish something great together, he’d say, “Dino, we done good.” 

I'm grateful that I was able to make this journey with him. His music will live on, forever and ever and ever. He's the best big brother that anyone could ever ask for.    

Maurice, you done good.

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Philip Bailey: Maurice finished his race. Now he gets his wings -- so to speak -- the everlasting ability to soar freely with radiance and splendor in the glory of God's love. It's what we used to talk about, and what we used to write and sing about.

I remember one day he held out his hand, with his fist clenched tight. He said, “Try to get something out of my hand.” Obviously I couldn’t. He said, “That’s a good lesson about life: If you hold your hands tight, nothing comes in and nothing goes out.”  You’ve got to keep your hands open in order to give and to receive. That is just one of many profound lessons I learned from my friend. He often used the phrase “student of life,” and that was something that rubbed off on all of us.  

We often spoke about our shared experience of growing up without our fathers present and the impact it had on us. Maurice shaped a lot of the feelings and perspectives on life that I had as a young adult.

He was always thoughtful. I remember attending my first Broadway musical with him: The Wiz. Maurice bought me a suit so I would be presentable.  

He was a fierce perfectionist and workaholic. He was very task-oriented and knew how to execute his plans by pulling the right resources together to implement the vision.

So … he gets there before I do. I can just about bet that when I get there, he will be showing off, and then I can say, “Teach me how to do that!”

I will miss you, Maurice: You were a brother, a father figure, a teacher, a preacher and the greatest friend. You cracked me up with your down-home humor, and you had so much swagger.

This story originally appeared in the Feb. 20 issue of Billboard.

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