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Barry White

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Barry White

Barry Eugene White was born on 12 September 1944, in Galveston, Texas, the eldest of two children. His birth at Galveston was entirely due to his mother visiting relatives and extending her stay there. Back home in California, he was raised in Watts, Los Angeles, along with his brother Darryl who was born thirteen months later.

Darryl was to be murdered in a meaningless Gangland killing on 5 December 1983 which devastated Barry who later remarked "Believe me, life is very cheap in that world. It's crazy, but he only died over two dollars." As children the two brothers doted on each other and were best friends; indeed their mutual nickname 'Burly' was a slip of the tongue as the infants tried to say 'Buddy’.

They were brought up by their mother, actress Sadie Marie Carter, who appeared in the 1931 movie "Trader Horn”. She and their Father Melvin A. White, never married and didn't live together as such. Barry recalled, "When I started school, my Father saw my birth certificate and noticed my Mother's surname on it. Well, he just scribbled out 'Carter' and wrote in his own, 'White'."

Brought up in a musical household, Barry remembered being taught to harmonise by his Mother at the age of four. "Mama was singing 'Silent Night' and I sang the counterline; that's when music came into focus. I was fine-tuned; I stayed glued to the phonogram when Mama played her records; symphonies, sonatas, melodies soaring through me. Darryl loved fighting but I loved violins. I was drawn to the mystery of sound. Even though Mama taught piano, I never learnt to read or write music.”

Seduced by the sound of Mama playing "Moonlight Sonata” on a used upright she paid $50 for, Barry recalled "It was so beautiful watching that Taurus Queen play that piano. She tried to teach me the scales but I told her I wanted to learn it my way. One of the greatest gifts she gave me was when she said 'Okay"".

Barry sang in his Baptist Church Choir, played the organ and soon went on to arrange their music. He played piano on “Goodnight My Love” by Jesse Belvin at the age of eleven and was paid $55 for the session. Later, as an early teenager, his trademark voice became apparent. "It changed when I was 14', he said later, 'I woke, up and spoke to my Mom and the whole of my chest vibrated. She was in shock!" he laughed.

As well as his Mother, radio played a great part in the Maestro’s early life and he built up quite a record collection by burgling people's houses to satiate his appetite for music. "I only stole the good ones!" Barry mischievously remarked on television in 1993.

Early Years Convinced that music would be his life Barry left school at the age of fifteen, “I quit High School on my birthday; it was my senior year and I didn't see the point. I was ready to make music." But first he had to tame the rebellious streak which would later engulf Darryl’s life, getting into trouble with the law and serving seven months at Juvenile Hall for stealing $30,000 worth of Dual 90 Cadillac tyres. The dehumanising side of this experience affected him deeply, and he explained “While I was in jail, I came to grips with owning up to my mistakes and made up my mind to never hand my freedom over to anyone else again in my life."

When some of Barry's school-friends formed the R & B group The Upfronts in 1960, he sang Bass (“Although I never wanted to be a singer"), and wrote songs. Soon after touring the L.A. club scene with the Upfronts, he sung and recorded with the Atlantics and the Five Du-Tones.

By now spellbound with the magic of the recording studio, Barry learnt his craft as engineer, producer and all-round musician, and was soon able to play every instrument presented to him, with the exception of strings and horns. His first taste of success came in 1963 and his involvement with Bob and Earl on "Harlem Shuffle”, during the sessions of which he met arranger Gene Page.

At this time Barry was married to his childhood sweetheart, with four children and eager to make a living to support his family. The marriage was not to last and ended in divorce in 1965 (when Barry was 21) after a six year romance. A publishing deal with Downey Music in 1966 led to a single "Man Ain't Nothin’'" flipped with "I Don't Need It" under the name 'Lee Barry' although the composer and arranger credit is Barry White. This was to be the first ever Barry White solo release.

He was contracted to produce an album for Danny Wagner ‘The Kindred Soul Of Danny Wagner’ (Imperial) in 1966, featuring Barry White singing backgrounds on a rework of “Harlem Shuffle” and lead vocals on “My Buddy” which has appeared on lots of early-material CDs ever since. Around the same time, he became A & R (Artist and Repertoire) man for the Mustang/Bronco labels and was commissioned to produce several acts including four Viola Wills and three Felice Taylor singles in 1966/67. Viola would not hit the charts until 1979 (with "'Gonna Get Along Without You Now"), but Barry took Felice into the US Billboard charts with “It May Be Winter Outside” (later revived by Love Unlimited) and the UK charts with "I Feel Love Comin' On", both in 1967.

At that time, Barry was also licensing productions to UNI records, with two Lori Hampton 45s to his credit. Motown aficionados will be interested that he produced the legendary Brenda Holloway, under the assumed name Brendetta Davis, on the single “Until You Are Gone” c/w “I Can't Make It Without Him” on Liberty records in 1968. Brenda was a long-time favourite singer of Barry’s and a backing vocalist on many of his later albums.

However, just as it seemed Barry was on the verge of success at Mustang/Bronco, the label folded in 1969 and he went back to the drawing board, surfacing to write a song for the Hanna-Barbera TV series ‘The Banana Splits’ in 1969. The tune “Doin’ The Banana Split” – not nearly as bad as the title sounded - appeared on the show and this lucrative move kept Barry’s finances afloat. In 1970 he released “Little Girl” flipped with a raw R. & B. cover of Elvis's "In The Ghetto" under the pseudonym Gene West.

Also in 1970, he wrote and produced the first recording of the classic “Your Sweetness Is Your Weakness” for Jackie Lee on UNI. Barry’s connection with Jackie Lee lasted over a decade, as Jackie also recorded as Earl Nelson (of Bob & Earl) and Jay Dee on the Barry White-produced 1974 album ‘Come On In Love’.

Back in 1968, while sitting in on a Motown recording session with Gene Page producing, Barry met three backing singers and wanted to know whether he could work with them, as he "'just knew the girls had got what it takes.” The singers were Glodean James, her sister Linda, and cousin Diane Taylor... Love Unlimited. By 1969 he started work and rehearsed them for over two years and in 1971 met Russ Regan of UNI records who eventually signed Love Unlimited to the label.

In the spring of 1972 they unleashed the first single, "Walkin’ In The Rain With The One I Love”, during which Barry’s trademark deep-voiced talkover is heard for the first time. This became a worldwide smash, reaching Top Twenty status in both the US and UK.

Within months of that smash and its hit album ‘From A Girl’s Point Of View…’ (the first by Love Unlimited), Russ Regan was head-hunted by the newly reactivated 20th Century records, and Russ encouraged Barry to move across with him and take Love Unlimited to the new label.

Barry began looking for a male vocalist to record his own songs, and indeed had demoed several songs to launch this new artist. Everyone who heard these demos urged Barry to release them himself. Eventually, he was persuaded to sign with 20th Century as a solo artist. The first sessions resulted in his debut Gold album ‘I’ve Got So Much To Give' and the lead single, “I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little More, Baby", which became the fastest-selling single in 20th Century’s history.

The next triumph came with the second Love Unlimited album, 1973’s ‘Under the Influence Of...' From its day of release US radio DJs flipped over “Love's Theme”, the instrumental piece which opened the album, and demanded its release as a single. Now, credited to The Love Unlimited Orchestra, the track smashed its way to Number One on the US chart, and reached the Top 10 in 25 countries around the world. Simultaneously, both Barry’s second album, ‘Stone Gon’’ and the single “Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up”, made the Top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic, with the LP making his British album chart breakthrough.

On the back of “Love’s Theme”, the second Love Unlimited album soared to No. 2 on the Billboard Albums Pop chart, and as such the trio became the first female group ever to chart that high with a regular album. Through Love Unlimited, Barry finally got due recognition for some overlooked classics, “It May Be Winter Outside” and “Under The Influence Of Love”, which both reached the Billboard Hot 100. The backing track to Smoke’s 1971 single “Oh Love (Well We Finally Made It)” (MoSoul) was employed on the same album to create the definitive version of the tune. Barry revisited this song himself on his ‘Can’t Get Enough’ album, the only instance of Barry and Love Unlimited recording the same song.

Now among the elite of hit-makers throughout the world, it was time for the Orchestra to do a full album, and the Gold-selling ‘Rhapsody In White' in 1974 was the result; Barry’s growling introductions becoming a trademark and providing the blueprint for many classic albums. Following the low-key ‘Together Brothers’ soundtrack, Barry was to reach the dizziest heights in September 1974 with the release of his third solo album, 'Can't Get Enough’, and the lead-off single “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe”. Both reached the top of the American charts and the UK Top 10. The follow-up single, "You're The First, The Last, My Everything”, became a Number One in the UK and many European countries, and became his anthem in concerts.

He married Glodean James of Love Unlimited in October 1974 and they became the hippest couple in showbiz. Pictures of Glodean’s four-inch nails accompanied most of their press stories when Barry, Love Unlimited and the Orchestra came to the UK in 1975 on a triumphant world tour.

White Gold

The years 1973-75 were a bumper period for Barry White music. His sound was all over the radio and the burgeoning ‘Disco’ scene. In addition to his own, Love Unlimited and the Orchestra releases at that time, he produced one-off albums for many other artists. These are Tom Brock ‘I Love You More And More’ (20th Century), Jay Dee ‘Come On In Love’ (Warner Bros.), Evan Pace ‘Face To Face’ (Blue Thumb), Gene Page ‘Hot City’ (Atlantic), Gloria Scott ‘What Am I Gonna Do?’ (Casablanca), Westwing ‘Westwing’ (20th Century) and White Heat ‘White Heat’ (RCA), all of which are highly collectable today.

Between 1973 and 1979 Barry White, Love Unlimited and the Love Unlimited Orchestra released 20 albums on 20th Century records, almost all of which achieved at least Gold status in America. He sold $16 million worth of records in 1974 alone and was held responsible by some for the so called ‘Baby Boom’ in the mid-Seventies, “Not me personally, but my music!" Barry teased.

Barry’s long list of hits achieved classic status, with discs such as "Love's Theme”, “Let The Music Play”, “What Am I Gonna Do With You", "It May Be Winter Outside", “You See The Trouble With Me”, "It's Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me”, “Just The Way You Are” and “Don’t Make Me Wait Too Long”, becoming a virtual soundtrack to the Seventies.

Yet this extraordinary success could not be maintained and in 1979 Barry sensed the tide was turning and set about building as much independence as the music business would allow by forming Unlimited Gold records. He took the company for distribution to CBS, and intended the label to be a vehicle for himself, Love Unlimited, the Orchestra and newly signed talent.

From the beginning, Unlimited Gold failed to live up to its promise, as internal wrangling and executive politics sidelined Barry's dream. Indeed, CBS in the UK declined to release a single from each of Barry's LPs ‘Beware!’ ‘Change’ and ‘Dedicated’, which stifled album sales. But all the other acts fared even worse.

Barry persisted with the label which went on to issue fourteen albums in total; five by Barry, a further album in a duet with Glodean, two by Love Unlimited, three by the Orchestra and one each by his singings Danny Pearson and Jimmie and Vella Cameron and a Greatest Hits compilation.

However, only Barry’s albums registered any US sales, and mostly they could only edge into the top half of Billboard's Top 200 Albums. But of the ten released in Europe, not one reached the UK charts and the label closed its doors in 1984 with hardly a murmur.

The mid-Eighties brought personal tragedy in the death of Diane Taylor of Love Unlimited after a long illness with cancer. The group disbanded when she became too ill to tour although Glodean continued to appear on stage with Barry in his concerts. Barry was also devastated by the death of brother Darryl and took these events as a sign to look at where his life was heading both personally and professionally.

After taking stock he soon became aware that hip-hop, rap and swingbeat were the new flavour. With echoes of his days with Mustang/Bronco, Barry set about mastering the new technology as he learnt how to program drum machines and synthesisers, spending several days a week; sometimes twenty four hours a day buried deep inside the recording studio. He later remarked "I was used to going into the studio with ten guys; now I had to learn how to go in there with one machine. I was locked into one style of recording ... in the middle of my forties I had to shift my mind without losing my soul."

During his time away, Barry White's huge influence on music from the Seventies onwards became acknowledged by fellow artists and music critics alike. His talking introductions were the forerunner to Rap; the full-length album versions of hit singles predated the 12" by several years; the instrumental B-sides - which he started in 1967 - became the blueprint to "Dub' mixes twenty-five years later; and his backing tracks would be sampled by acts as diverse as Gang Starr and OMD.

It was now time to relaunch his career and his return to recording came with a new A. & M. contract signed in 1987. Straight away his hit-making days resumed with the UK Top 20 single 'Sho' You Right" and the album 'The Right Night and Barry White". This was followed by a triumphant world tour in 1988 which tied-in with Barry's return to the UK Top 5 album charts. 'Barry White: The Collection' assembled many of his Seventies hits with the addition of "Sho' You Right” and the Paul Hardcastle Remix of "Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up". This title has gone on to be the most durable compilation of any in UK chart history.

His reputation with the hip-hop audience soared through a one-off duet with Big Daddy Kane, “All Of Me”, which became a Gold American single. Another triumph came with Barry's appearance on the Grammy-winning "The Secret Garden" from Quincy Jones' album ‘Back on the Block', which was also certified Gold. 1989 closed with the release of the acclaimed album 'Barry White: The Man Is Back!'

The Man Is Back Barry blasted into the Nineties with his third A. & M. album, 1991’s ‘Put Me In Your Mix’, selling strongly is America, with the title single becoming his biggest R. & B. bit for a decade, peaking at #2 on the Billboard R & B chart. Later that year, the duet with Isaac Hayes, "Dark and Lovely", also did well.

In 1992 Barry was on another hugely successful UK tour where he met long-time admirer Lisa Stansfield at the Hammersmith Odeon. Shortly afterwards Barry sang "All Around The World" with Lisa on BBC-2s "Rapido" and reaction was such that they recorded it as a B-side to one of her hits. Lisa remarked "one of my biggest heroes is Barry White” and had previously dedicated her "Affection' album to him. She went on to have a hit with her own version of “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up” in 1997 and duetted with Barry again on his last album ‘Staying Power’, on the song “The Longer We Make Love”.

Yet despite all this activity, in many ways this was a sad time for Barry, as old endings and new beginnings charted this phase of his life and career. He separated from Glodean in 1988 although never divorced her. He discreetly closed the door on that chapter of his life would never discuss their relationship, except to later invite people to listen to the song “Whatever We Had We Had” from 'The Icon is Love’, and said "It's all there, if you really want to know". He and Glodean remained good friends for the remainder of Barry’s life.

Further upheaval came following the 1993 earthquake that destroyed his L.A. home and R.I.S.E. studios, from where Barry moved to Las Vegas and then to Encino in California to subsequently live with his long-time companion Katherine Denton.

By 1994 Barry had sensed there was greater potential for his recordings, and embarked upon using outside producers for the first time. However, it was important that he work with people sympathetic to his style and method of recording. Gerald Levert, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis had no difficulty augmenting Barry White and long-time collaborator Jack Perry.

The resulting album, 'The Icon Is Love’, astonished observers with its sure-footed blend of modern and traditional, as the now-classic "Practice What You Preach” single became his first International Top 20 hit in over a decade and the album quickly amassed over four-million sales world-wide.

A new generation of listeners caught up with Barry’s magic and he became much in-demand on TV shows and in interviews. He appeared on the ‘Late Show with David Letterman’ several times up to 1999 and starred as himself in episodes of the ‘Ally McBeal’ and ‘The Simpsons’. He also found time to write his autobiography, ‘Love Unlimited: Insights On Life & Love’ with Marc Eliot.

For a while there was speculation that a new group Love U II, ‘a new Love Unlimited for the 90s’, featuring Glodean and sister Linda James, would surface, although no recordings have so far been issued.

The late Nineties saw Barry sign a new recording deal with Private Music and in 1999 his final album, ‘Staying Power’, was released. Featuring Puff Daddy, Lisa Stansfield, and Chaka Khan, this Gold-selling album garnered Barry two Grammy Awards in 2000 (his first), for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for the song "Staying Power" and Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for the album ‘Staying Power’.

Sadly, Barry had been suffering from poor health for some time, and years of living with hypertension and diabetes took its toll, forcing him to cancel several dates of his last World Tour in 2000. His health further deteriorated and he was hospitalised towards the end of 2002, suffering a stroke on 1 May 2003 from which point he was awaiting a kidney transplant. Barry died on Friday 4 July 2003 at around 0930 PST at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre, the cause of death given as kidney failure, brought on from years of high blood pressure.

At the time of Barry’s death, he was preparing a "duets" album for release during 2003, a fitting legacy to a true Giant of Soul. Barry's musical heritage continues with his children who survive him, many of whom followed him into the business: LaNese, Denise, Nina, Shaherah, Barry Jr., Darryl, and his stepchildren, Bridget and Kevin. He is also survived by Katherine Denton and their daughter Barriana.

Let The Music Play Forever A phenomenon spanning over four decades, the legendary Barry White carved a unique place in the hearts of music fans across the World. His success was truly international, reflected by more than 100 Gold and 38 Platinum record awards. We will always share a little love in our hearts for Barry White: writer, arranger, producer and super smooth vocalist. His influence on music has been awesome, and will continue to be so.


 

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