Fred White, one of two drummers for soul group Earth Wind and Fire during the most successful decade in their history, 1974-84, died Monday at age 67. No cause of death was reported.
White was part of a family legacy as the brother of Verdine White and half-brother of Maurice White. Although long since departed from the group, in 2000 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with other original members.
In addition to playing on classic EWF albums ranging from 1983’s “Electric Universe” through 1975’s “That’s the Way of the World,” White played drums on 1970s albums by artists including Little Feat, Donny Hathaway, The Emotions, and Dennis Williams.
Verdine White announced the death on Instagram. “Dear family friends and fans… Our family is saddened today by the loss of an amazing and talented family member, our beloved brother Frederick Eugene ‘Freddie’ White,” Verdine wrote. “He joined our brothers Maurice, Monte and Ronald in heaven and is now drumming with the angels! Babysitter, member of the EWF Original 9, with a gold record at the young age of 16! He was brother number 4 in the family lineup. But more than that, at home and beyond, he was a great brother who was always entertaining and delightfully mischievous!”
Verdine White continued in her post, “And we can always count on him to make a seemingly bad situation lighter! He will live on in our hearts forever, rest in strength dear Freddie!! We thank you all for your love, blessings and support during this time. Thank you. Flying high baby brother, we love to shine you [stars] And back!”
A few other musical giants weighed in with responses to Verdin’s post. “Sending my love and deepest condolences to you and the family,” Lenny Kravitz wrote. “I was blessed to be in his presence and blessed to be influenced by him. A true king. Rest in power.” Neil Rogers wrote, “Deepest compassion, love and respect.” “Love,” replied Questlove simply.
The current version of Earth Wind & Fire features three members of the classic ’70s lineup: Verdine White on bass, Philip Bailey on vocals, and Ralph Johnson on drums and percussion. Maurice White, the band’s leader, died in 2016. Another member of that original period, sax player Andrew Woolfolk, died in April 2022.
Johnson shared drumming duties with Fred White during their decade-long tenure in the band. Drum Magazine wrote, “Having two drummers on stage was key to the band’s big sound.
Given Fred White’s young age compared to the band’s longevity, it’s no surprise that the drummer entered music full-time as a teenager, meeting Hathaway at age 15 and going on tour with her. This work led to White’s appearance on “Donny Hathaway Live”, considered one of the essential live albums of the soul era, before he joined his brothers in EWF.
On Instagram, the official EWF account shared a video of White doing a drum solo during a performance of ‘Runnin’ during our 1979 Tour of the World at the Rockplast in Essen, Germany. Rest in love.” Beneath that initial post, Verdine White apologized for serving as the first announcement of his brother’s death. “Friends and fans, sorry this information was posted before I made an official statement,” Verdine wrote there. “Yes we are. Everyone is saddened by the loss, especially Fred’s family. Thank you for your love, blessings and compassion.”
Hard to believe, given the enduring popularity of so many of the band’s songs, one of their hits, “Shinin’ Star,” went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. But eight of their singles topped R&B. charted in 1978 with “September” and the Beatles cover “Got to Get You Into My Life”. Their other top 10 singles on the Hot 100 included the 1979 hits “Boogie Wonderland” (No. 6) and “After Love’s Gone” (No. 2). “September,” which only reached No. 8 on the Hot 100, six times. Certified platinum, their best-selling single to date.