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.