It was five years ago, on this very day. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in McDonald’s with my family when the text came. The words on my phone screen etched their way into my brain for what may very well be eternity:
KENNY, IS IT TRUE ABOUT MAURICE WHITE?
I paused and thought before deciding not to panic. Questions like that usually meant that someone was in a serious accident or worse, had died. Being as old as he was (74), it was highly unlikely that someone was asking me about some previously unknown scandal. The subsequent barrage of text messages from various other friends only helped to confirm what I knew, but was denying in my heart.
Maurice White was dead.
I didn’t say a word during the drive home, not even when we walked into the kitchen after putting our coats in the closet. I silently walked up the stairs and after a few moments, texted downstairs to my wife:
Maurice White died. I don’t want to be bothered.
I closed the office door behind me and grabbed my tower of Earth, Wind & Fire CDs. I pulled out his self-titled CD and stared at the cover for a few moments before collapsing on my desk in tears. That’s where I stayed, for 4 to 5 hours, arms folded on the desk with my face on my forearms. My only other position was leaning back, facing my motionless ceiling fan.
My hero. My idol. My musical father, gone.
Before I continue, please know that this is not a tribute. This isn’t a biographical post. This isn’t a review of his incredible body of work as the creator and leader of the greatest musical ensemble of all time: the mighty elements known as Earth, Wind & Fire.
I’m writing this simply because I COULDN’T before. It took several years for me to open up about this, about the genius who was my inspiration to become a better musician, songwriter, performer. It’s because of his extraordinary Phenix Horns that I studied and fervently practiced on the alto sax in hopes of playing for his band. It’s because of their sound that I have enjoyed entertaining audiences with multiple groups of my own.
I’m fortunate to be have been born during a time when his first group (not including performing in The Ramsey Lewis Trio and groups led by others), The Salty Peppers hit the scene with their uniquely soulful and funky sound. I was blessed to have heard EWF albums when I was too young to even understand the true context of many of their songs.
I enjoyed a young existence, dancing alongside my sister in the mid-to-late 70s and early 80s. “Boogie Wonderland”, “Serpentine Fire”, “Reasons”, “Life Is Fair, But So Uncool”, “Wait”, “In The Stone”, “System Of Survival”, “Magnetic”, “Fantasy”, “Burning Bush”, “Caribou”, “Blood Brothers”, “You And I”, “Spirit”, “Where Have All The Flowers Gone”, “Heritage”, “You And I”, “Side By Side”, “Fall In Love With Me” and yes, my favorite, “September“.
And I’m sure you know that my list goes on…
I’ve seen them perform live, five different times over the course of 3 different decades.
…and each time, they turned me into a child with a heart of wonder.
I lived by his words. I quoted his lyrics. I performed his tunes.
He was my path to the glow of song. He was my musical father.
But alas, nothing lasts forever, unless you consider his contribution(s) to music. Those melodies will carry into the light and traverse the universe.
Yes, he is gone from us and with his departure, so went an enormous part of me. It is on this day, February 4th, that music died. For me, when I lost him, music actually died.
Still, I’ve managed to find some comfort in the fact that his comrades/bandmates/friends continue to play his music and preserve his legacy, delivering his dreams to old and new audiences abroad.
And surprisingly, he hit me with one more CD last year, “Manifestation” (you can click here to open my personal review about it in a new window).
For what it’s worth, I don’t think of days as the anniversaries of the deaths of celebrities, friends and loved ones. If I did, I’d spend 362 days lamenting their departure. But I’d be lying if I said this day doesn’t hurt and hurt deep. On this day, I lost the friend I’ve known all of my life, but never embraced. Never spoke to. Never got a chance to say, “Thank you”.
So wherever you are, if you can somehow hear me…
Goodbye Maurice. Thank you. We miss you. I miss you. I love you…
“Bah-dee-ya! Golden dreams were shiny days…“