Roger Thompson, an associate professor of writing and rhetoric at Stony Brook University, celebrates the life of musician Maurice White with an op-ed in The New York Times — Earth, Wind and Fire’s Musical Reintegration. White, co-founder and singer for the band Earth, Wind & Fire, died on February 4. He and his band were awarded a 2016 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award on February 15.
“The award provides an opportunity not just to celebrate Mr. White’s music but to recognize his thoughtful negotiation of race and the music industry in the early 1970s,” Thompson writes.
He emphasizes that it was White who turned Earth, Wind & Fire into one of the most successful crossover acts during a time when the music industry was resegregating black and white audiences. Instead of focusing on one musical tradition, he used the sounds and rhythms of jazz, R&B, pop, gospel and classical.
“Mr. White’s approach of blending musical traditions is now familiar, but in the pop music scene of the 1970s, it was revolutionary,” Thompson states. “Mr. White used his band’s popularity to introduce a more sober social message about race. Listen to Earth, Wind & Fire with race in mind, and instead of simply driving rhythms and effortless melodies, you will hear a delicate plea for change.”
Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September”