Sun, Jul 06, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Barry White, 58, dies of kidney failure

LONG LASTING The star of '70s soul and disco kept booties shakin' with appearances on `Ally McBeal' and had been working on a new album when he died

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Rhythm and blues singer Barry White died on Friday. White, who was 58, suffered from high blood pressure.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Barry White, whose deep voice and lushly orchestrated songs added up to soundtracks for seduction, died on Friday in Los Angeles. He was 58.

A statement released by his manager, Ned Shankman, said the cause was kidney failure caused by hypertension.

In his songs, White created a fantasy world of opulence and desire. As strings played hovering chords, guitars echoed off into the distance, and drums provided a muffled heartbeat, White spoke in his bottomless bass and crooned the reassuring sentiments of hits like Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe, You're the First, the Last, My Everything and It's Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me.

Songs like Love's Theme, his 1973 instrumental hit for the Love Unlimited Orchestra, ushered in the disco era, and through the '70s, he became a pop fixture whose albums were destined for countless bedrooms. His career rebounded in the 1980s and '90s as the children of his original fans rediscovered his music.

White's childhood was as rough as his songs were smooth. He was born in Galveston, Texas, where he learned gospel singing from his mother and taught himself to play piano and organ. After his family moved to Los Angeles, he made his recording debut at 11, playing piano on the Jesse Belvin hit Goodnight My Love. But living in the poor neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles, he was also in and out of trouble, and in 1960 he spent seven months in jail for stealing tires.

According to White's 1999 autobiography, Love Unlimited: Insights on Life and Love (Broadway Books), while in jail he heard Elvis Presley's hit It's Now or Never, and decided to give up crime. His brother Darryl was shot and killed in a dispute over small change in 1983.

He became a singer and pianist with a Los Angeles rhythm-and-blues group, the Upfronts, and helped arrange Bob and Earl's 1963 hit, The Harlem Shuffle, later remade by the Rolling Stones. He toured with the rhythm-and-blues singer Jackie Lee. During a stop in Alabama, he called a white operator "baby" while phoning home. Moments later, the police pulled up next to his phone booth and threatened him with jail if he did it again.

In the mid-1960s, White worked as a talent scout for Mustang Records, where he signed a trio of female singers, Love Unlimited. He produced their 1972 hit, Walking in the Rain With the One I Love and went on to marry one of them, Glodean James, who survives him. She was his second wife; he had already had four children with his first.

In 1973, White began his solo career, starting a long string of hits with I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little More, Baby. Along with his own songs, he wrote and produced hits for Love Unlimited and the Love Unlimited Orchestra, and performed at elaborate concerts, at one point leading an 80-woman orchestra.

After disco peaked in the late 1970s, White's career ebbed. But his songs and the image he had created proved durable. Rappers and dance-music acts including 50 Cent, the Beastie Boys and Daft Punk have sampled his music. And in the late 1980s, he began a career resurgence. He appeared on Quincy Jones' Back on the Block album in 1990, and with the rapper Big Daddy Kane in 1991.

In 1994, he had an album that sold 2 million selling copies, The Icon Is Love, and his 1999 album, "Staying Power," won two rhythm-and-blues Grammy Awards. His "All-Time Greatest Hits" album, released in 1994, has also sold 1 million copies.

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