Barry White, who died of kidney failure in Los Angeles on July 4, 2003, was a huge man with a giant voice and an unrivalled reputation as a musical aphrodisiac.
Just 58, Barry White had suffered from high blood pressure for much of his 30-year career. But in that time he sold more than 100 million albums and pioneered a lavishly orchestrated hybrid of disco and R&B which was widely hailed as deluxe shag music.
But beyond his caricature as the Walrus of Love, Barry White created some of the most innovative, uplifting and sensual soul music ever recorded.
Born in 1944 in Galveston, Texas, Barry White moved to the LA neighbourhood of Watts with his single mother at just six months old. As a child he sang with the local Baptist choir and played piano on minor R&B hits. But the turning point came at 14, when his voice broke and the legendary bass baritone growl arrived overnight.
“I woke up, and spoke to my mother, and scared us both to death”, he later recalled. Barry White called his voice “my supreme gift, the gilded chariot on which I have driven the music of my life”.
Barry White decided to get serious about music at 16, while doing minor time for stealing tyres. But a decade of scraping a living as a producer, writer, arranger and occasional recording artist bore little fruit. By the early-’70s, he was married with four kids and often relying on welfare payments.
Finally, in 1972, White found his signature sound after adding his languid rumble (initially meant merely as a guide vocal) to the female trio Love Unlimited’s hit single ‘Walkin‘ In The Rain With The One I Love‘. A succession of sumptuously upholstered shag-pile soul anthems followed under his own name, mammoth hits including ‘Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up‘, ‘You’re The First, The Last, My Everything‘, and ‘It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me‘.
In 1974, White married Love Unlimited’s Glodean James. Of his phenomenal success with female fans, he claimed: “I speak of love, relationships, caring, sharing, communicating the loving side of men”.
White often derided the disco era, but his lush, sparkly, uptown sound was closely identified with American pop’s champagne decade and a staple at legendary clubs such as Studio 54.