Born Barry Eugene Carter, September 12, 1944, in Galveston, TX; died of kidney failure, July 4, 2003, in Los Angeles, CA. Singer. Soul seducer Barry White put out a string of hits during the disco heyday of the 1970s that redefined the term "romantic" music. With his deep bass voice and come–hither croons, White was not the pioneer of "the erotically charged love song," noted Entertainment Weekly writer Tom Sinclair, but his hits "simultaneously raised the bar for all subsequent bedroom ballads and changed the rules of the game for the R&B love men who sang them."
Though White was born in Galveston, Texas, in 1944, he and his younger brother, Darryl, grew up in a single–parent household in the rough South–Central neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. He was a talented musician from an early age, playing piano on a hit record called "Goodnight My Love" from Jesse Belvin when he was just eleven, and directing the choir at his Baptist church in his teens. Lured by street life, he spent seven months in a juvenile–detention lock–up at age 16 for stealing tires. One day while there, however, he heard the Elvis Presley song, "It's Now or Never," and felt as if the song was a message urging him to turn his life around, which he did from that day forward. His brother never managed to extricate himself, and died years later in a senseless shooting in the same Los Angeles neighborhood. Reflecting back on his own good fortune, White liked to say that he had been "born under a sign named blessed," according to People.
As a young man, White sang in a soul outfit called the Upfronts, and served as songwriter, arranger, and producer for a number of other minor bands of the era. Two 1965 solo tracks released under the name Barry Lee failed to catch on, and thereafter White concentrated on his career as a talent scout for the Mustang and Bronco record labels. He helped launch a female R&B group called Love Unlimited in the early 1970s, producing their 1972 hit "Walkin' in the Rain With the One I Love;" one of the women, Glodean James, eventually became his second wife. Offered a solo deal, White was initially wary about performing again, but headed back into the studio anyway. The result was 1973's I've Got So Much to Give and its hit single, "I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little More, Baby." He also formed a side project called the Love Unlimited Orchestra, whose 1973 instrumental, "Love's Theme" went to No. 1 and was said to have ushered in the disco era.
A string of hit LPs and singles followed White's debut LP over the next few years, including "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe," "You're My First, My Last, My Everything," and "It's Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me." They were lushly orchestrated R&B ballads in which "White created a fantasy world of opulence and desire," the New York Times ' Jon Pareles noted. "As strings played hovering chords, guitars echoed off into the distance, and drums provided a muffled heartbeat, Mr. White spoke in his bottomless bass and crooned the reassuring sentiments" of his love songs. And though White's "canyon–deep, butter–smooth vocals emphasized his songs' sexually charged verbal fore-play," noted a CNN.com writer, White always asserted that they were merely paeans to his wife, Glodean.
During the course of his long career in the music business, White earned an astounding 106 gold albums, 41 of which also attained platinum status. After disco died out, his fame did for a time as well, but he was a respected figure nonetheless who was tapped to produce Marvin Gaye's next album just days before the former Motown star was slain in 1984. White's own comeback began in 1993 with an appearance on the animated series The Simpsons, and his 1994 LP, The Icon Is Love, sold two million copies. Its single, "Practice What You Preach," reached No. 1. His past hits were mined for the popular Ally McBeal television series, and he even appeared as himself on an episode of the show. A 1999 record, Staying Power, earned him two long–awaited Grammy awards.
An immense man, White suffered from high blood pressure, and his health declined. In 2002, he was forced to drop out of a planned concert tour, and was hospitalized in September of that year. He died at age 58 of kidney failure the following July at Cedars–Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Divorced from his second wife, he was father to six children from those two unions and step–father to one child; his ninth child, a daughter, was born just weeks before his death to his companion, Catherine Denton. Long heralded as the king of the "make–out" song, White claimed he was anything but a Romeo himself and preferred the quiet life. In his spare time, Chicago Tribune obituary writer Richard Cromelin quoted him as saying, he liked to "play video games. I love my fish. I deal with my dogs. I stay home. I spend time with my children. I'm not a party animal."
Billboard Bulletin, July 7, 2003, p. 1; Chicago Tribune, July 5, 2003, sec. 1, p. 4; CNN.com , http://www.cnn.com/2003/SHOWBIZ/Music/07/04/obit.barry.white.ap/index.html (July 7, 2003); Daily Variety, July 7, 2003, p. 4; Entertainment Weekly, July 18, 2003, p. 17; E! Online, http://www.eonline.com/News/Items/0,1,12100,00.html (July 7, 2003); Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2003, p. B21; New York Times, July 5, 2003, p. A13; People, July 21, 2003, p. 71; Times (London, England) http://www.thetimesonline.co.uk (July 7, 2003); Washington Post, July 5, 2003, p. B7.
— Carol Brennan