Native of Galveston, Texas, but grew up in Los Angeles. He was a prodigy of sorts, playing piano on Jesse Belvin's classic rock and roll ballad "Goodnight My Love" at the age of 11. In adulthood, he would wear many hats, as producer, arranger, pianist, drummer, A&R man, manager, and songwriter. I may have left something out. White's most enduring success from those days might be Bob & Andy's 1964 hit "Harlem Shuffle", which he produced (there was also a young sax player at the session named Isaac Hayes).

In the 70s, he became the maestro of the Love Unlimited Orchestra. I'm told that he invented L-U-V; all kids named Barry born in the middle portion of the decade were named after him, and were conceived to his music. Hayes' symphonic soul, in both its uptempo ("Theme From Shaft") and downtempo (the L-U-V music) forms provided the blueprint for White's brief period of World Domination; disco died once or twice since then, but he and his subsonic Love Man growl remain a part of Americana.

Editor's note, 2003-07-04: Barry White died this morning in Los Angeles.


There's another Barry White: the great Bostonian R&B shouter now known, to avoid confusion, as Barrence Whitfield.

Vignette:

The pink Champagne's on ice, two glasses are filled filled with some of the bubbly and a luscious red strawberry sits in the bottom of each glass. Sensuously scented candles provide the only light in the room. The wallpaper's gold, flocked with a funky paisley of deep red. The furniture oozes cloying opulence — ornate Italianate shapes in white and gold, marble table tops, a red crushed velvet-upholstered settee with gilt ball-and-claw feet. The accessories include an Ebony Cleopatra's bust, a mirror surrounded by white and black piano keys, ornate gilt chandeliers with crystal teardrops everywhere. And the bed. The bed is about ten feet in diameter, round, and covered with a red crushed velvet spread, on top of which is a leopard skin and seemingly a million color-coordinated pillows of satin, velvet, and fur.

The music starts, an infectiously funky groove that swings in old-school R&B style. Well-arranged horns take the lead, then a string orchestra that seems to be comprised of a thousand instruments oozes into the background at just the perfect sound level.

A stunning young woman reclines on the bed. She's clad in nothing but a see-through "baby doll" negligee and 6" white stiletto heels.

Then, the voice. That amazing, rich, baritone voice. Effortlessly sensuous; never overdone. "It's ecstasy, when you're layin' down next to me..."

What woman in her right mind wouldn't be enchanted by that voice? Deep, very deep yet velvety, smooth and controlled, with impeccable phrasing and a tendency to add a hefty dollop of soul (borrowed from Billie Holiday) by starting a note a little bit flat, then arriving at perfect pitch just when the word being sung arrives at the proper syllable.

That was Barry White. That was the man that producer and musician Isaac Hayes said had a voice that "could charm a cat off a fish-wagon." The London Times obituary for White said, "If chocolate fudge cake could sing, it would sound just like Barry White."

Repeatedly cited by fans and the media alike as a "sex symbol," did it matter that the self-proclaimed "king of love" weighed in (at times in his life) at over four hundred pounds? Not at all. In fact, he was known in musical circles as "the walrus of love" and didn't care. Although he was the biggest male hit-maker on the disco and R&B scene, the Barry White sound crossed over to music lovers worldwide, selling a whopping hundred million records during his all-too-short career. Indeed, the combination of lush string orchestrations, danceability, exquisite overall arrangement and phrasing, and occasionally over-simplified but sincerely delivered lyrics had lovers of nearly every genre picking out records made by their "guilty pleasure," arguably the most sensuous male singer in history. What is truly remarkable about White's style is that but for a moan and groan here and there, he never, ever resorted to overt mention of things carnal; he left it all up to the imagination of the listener.

The sum total of the Barry White "sound" was listenability. Of course, women melted over every word, but the vocal prowess and musical finesse had a remarkable cross-section of the music-buying public snapping up White's many albums as fast as he could churn them out.
 

Early Days

Barry White earned all of the popularity he achieved. He was eight when he first appeared in public, singing in a Texas church choir. A musical prodigy, he became organist and choir director at the tender age of ten. By the time he could drive, he'd joined a Los Angeles R&B band, "The Upfronts," as a singer/keyboardist. By 1963, his arrangement of "The Harlem Shuffle" became a minor hit for Bob and Earl.

He worked in clubs, writing and performing music. By 1966 he'd become an Artists & Repertoire manager for the doomed Mustang record label. However, he produced the catchy, romantic single "Walkin' in the Rain With the One I Love" for a trio of female vocalists called "Love Unlimited." The record earnd gold status and hit #14 on the pop charts. (Later, White would get permission to call his orchestra the "Love Unlimited Orchestra," and the three soulful sirens from the group, Diana Taylor, Linda and Glodean James, stayed on and went with the orchestra everywhere to lend their distinctive, very feminine backgrounds in three-part harmony.)

Finally, 1973 was a fabulous year for White. By now he was an accomplished composer, arranger and conductor. 20th Century Fox records agreed to sign him to a recording contract. He rewarded them with the amazingly catchy instrumental "Love's Theme," which went platinum and hit Number One on the charts. More importantly, it was arguably the last instrumental to make it to #1 on the pop charts. The single and the album, I've Got So Much To Give were purchased by a demographic that was unrivaled with regard to diversity of age, race, and stated favorite style of music. (Van McCoy, in an attempt to cash in on White's unique use of strings, orchestra and female background delivered a major disco hit "The Hustle," also in '73, but it's success was eclipsed by not only "Love's Theme" but two other White vocal hits of the same year.)

Fox records had found a goldmine in the gold-throated, multi-talented White. In fiscal 1973-1974 alone White's singles and albums had earned gross revenues of $16 million (1970s) dollars (for the record company alone). This incredible success was not due to any sort of gimmick; it was due to pure, unadulterated musical talent on the part of White and his collaborators. They were truly making beautiful music. And no matter what the genre, beautiful music sells.
 

Staying Power

Those of us in the business of music need only to hear the statistics as laid out in his profile on All Music Guide: "White's career took him from the ghetto to international success with 106 gold and 41 platinum albums, 20 gold and ten platinum singles, with worldwide sales in excess of 100 million." Add two Grammys (both later in life). And out of the albums eight made the number one spot on the Billboard Charts. Eleven singles made it to No. 1 or No. 2. Only Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, and Ray Charles surpassed him (No, not Michael Jackson). Would that White had survived more than his brief 58 years, more hits and certainly more Grammys would have issued forth.

It was the 1999 album Staying Power that earned White his only two Grammy awards. Yeah, sometimes it takes the Grammy folks a long time to wake up and smell the coffee. He wrote his autobiography in 2000, entitled Love Unlimited. He was also making cameo television appearances until the time of his death, notably on the show "Ally McBeal."

Of many sold-out European performances, one of his most notable was in Rome, where he performed a duet with operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti. Film of the appearance shows an enthusiastic White singing next to Pavarotti, but never really being "in synch." Pavarotti, singing in Italian, resembles a deer in the headlights. At the conclusion of the tune, they shake hands and Pavarotti disappears. This appearance was, perhaps, a publicity stunt not only to add class to White's act, but Pavarotti was at that time peddling his collection of operatic arias aimed at a mainstream audience.

White's morbid obesity caught up with him around that time; he suffered high blood pressure and other diseases. A stroke felled him in 2003, he died two months later.
 

Discography

1973 I've Got So Much to Give 20th Century

1973 Stone Gon' 20th Century

1973 Rhapsody in White 20th Century

1974 Can't Get Enough 20th Century

1974 Together Brothers Mercury

1975 Just Another Way to Say I Love You 20th Century

1976 Is This Whatcha Wont? 20th Century

1976 Let the Music Play 20th Century

1977 Barry White Sings for Someone You Love 20th Century

1978 My Musical Bouquet 20th Century

1978 The Man 20th Century

1979 I Love to Sing the Songs I Sing 20th Century

1979 Super Movie Themes: Just a Little Bit Different 20th Century

1979 The Message Is Love Priority

1980 Sheet Music Unlimited Gold

1981 Barry & Glodean Priority

1981 Beware! Epic

1982 Change Priority

1983 Dedicated Priority

1987 The Right Night & Barry White A&M

1989 The Man Is Back! A&M

1991 Put Me in Your Mix A&M

1994 The Icon Is Love A&M

1999 Staying Power Private Music

2000 Your Heart and Soul: The Love Album Time Music

2007 An Evening with Barry White [(live) Eagle (posthumous)

2007 What a Groove 20th Century (posthumous)

White's songs were included on over 100 compilation albums. Three of eight posthumously-produced DVDs are still available for sale.
 

SOURCES:

Rolling Stone Magazine Online: "Barry White" (From The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll) http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/barrywhite/biography (Accessed January 6, 2008)

"Barry White" VH1.com http://www.vh1.com/artists/az/white_barry/bio.jhtml (Accessed January 6, 2008)

"Barry White" Info.com http://www.answers.com/topic/barry-white?cat=entertainment (Accessed January 6, 2008)

"Barry White - biography" by Ed Hogan and Wade Kergan, Allmusic.com http://wm02.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll (Accessed January 6, 2008)

Obituary - "Barry White, Voice of Seduction, Dies at 58" by John Pareles The New York Times, July 3, 2003 http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/05/obituaries/05WHIT.html?ex=1372824000&en=765101b00fc1bef6&ei=5007&partner=USERLAND (Accessed January 6, 2008)

Obituary - "Barry White, Soul Singer Whose Dark-Brown Voice Provided the Soundtrack to Many a Seventies Love Affair" (writer not attributed) TIMES ONLINE http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article1148698.ece (Accessed January 6, 2008)

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