Fred White, Drummer for Earth, Wind & Fire, Dies at 67
Fred White, who as a drummer with Earth, Wind & Fire propelled some of the funkiest songs in pop history, helping to provide a soundtrack to the nation’s weddings, bar mitzvahs, high school reunions and any other function at which people of all ages dance, died on Sunday. He was 67.
His death was announced on Instagram by his brother Verdine White, the band’s bassist. The announcement did not say where he died or give the cause.
Fred White was a member of Earth, Wind & Fire during a pivotal period, from the mid-1970s to the early ’80s, when the group made much of its most beloved music. He played on “Let’s Groove,” “Boogie Wonderland,” “Shining Star” and “September,” which Spotify lists as having been played on its platform 1.18 billion times. The songs’ first few bars alone have long been known to move people to the dance floor.
Earth, Wind & Fire was founded and led by Fred and Verdine’s half brother, Maurice White. Though the band’s music was recognizable for its joyous horn section and smooth vocals, Maurice, in his 2016 memoir, “My Life with Earth, Wind & Fire,” described the group as “a band of drummers.”
Maurice himself had trained in the instrument, and it was not out of character for four percussionists to play all at once during Earth, Wind & Fire concerts. For two years, Fred White and Ralph Johnson both performed onstage with their own full drum kits.
“Fred was the brick wall,” Maurice White wrote in his memoir. “He provided a rock-solid tempo and a rock-solid feel, priceless qualities in a drummer. He was one of the best things going for us.”
Frederick Eugene Adams was born on Jan. 13, 1955, in Chicago. He shared a mother with Maurice, Edna (Parker) White, a homemaker. His father, Verdine Sr., was a podiatrist. Fred began playing the drums at 9. (Maurice called him a “child prodigy.”) Fred, like Verdine Jr., changed his surname to White so that it would be clearer that he was related to Maurice.
Fred grew up “in the ghetto in Chicago,” he told Modern Drummer magazine in 1982, and gained a sense of purpose from the drums. He began playing gigs about the age of 13. By 14, he was in a band that appeared in nightclubs. At 15, he was playing with the blues singer Donny Hathaway and making up excuses when he could not attend a session because of school.
After Fred toured with the rock band Little Feat, Maurice and Verdine decided that he had the chops to play with Earth, Wind & Fire. Fred was still a teenager.
In addition to Verdine, Mr. White’s survivors include a sister, Geri. Maurice White died in 2016 at 74. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.
In his memoir, Maurice described Fred during his years with the band as a “daredevil spirit” who was “cocky, young and a bit arrogant,” creating problems with his bandmates, particularly stemming from the unusual situation of having two drummers performing onstage at the same time.
Speaking to Modern Drummer, Fred White acknowledged that his early years sharing drumming duties with Mr. Johnson were a “battle,” since he was “used to being the only drummer and used to carrying the band.”
The group eventually dropped the dual drummer setup and shifted Mr. Johnson’s responsibilities to vocals and other percussion instruments like the congas.
“After we stopped doing it,” Fred White told Modern Drummer, “I missed it.”