Barry White/Barry Eugene Carter (1944-2003)

Barry White at concert in Amsterdam, February 17, 1974
Courtesy Fotograaf Onbekend Anefo (CC0)

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Barry Eugene Carter, commonly known as Barry White, was a three-time Grammy award-winning singer, songwriter, producer, and arranger. His music focused primarily on funk, rhythm and blues, soul, and disco. Throughout his career, he generated 106 gold and 41 platinum albums, 20 gold and ten platinum records, and accrued sales of over 100 million records.

Born September 12, 1944, to Melvin White and Sadie Carter in Galveston, Texas, White was raised by his mother, who, when he was six months old, moved him and his brother Darryl to South Central Los Angeles. White grew up singing in the church choir while his mother taught him piano. White’s first recording came at age 11, playing piano for Jesse Belvin. At 16, White served four months in prison for stealing tires. It was during this time that, upon listening to the Elvis Presley song “It’s Now or Never,” White decided to rededicate his life to music.

Upon release from prison in 1960, White joined the Upfronts. The group found little success, and White went on to work for several independent labels doing artist and repertoire work. During this time, he made his first genuine attempt at solo recording under the name Lee Barry but again was met with little success. He began working for the record label Bronco, where he had some success working with Viola Davis and Felice Taylor before the label went out of business. White then fell on hard times and needed to take loans from friends, but he began working with an all-female group that included Glodean James, who would later become his second wife. This group became Love Unlimited leading to White’s first real success in 1972 when they released their multi-million-selling album From a Girl’s Point of View.

Personnel shifts at Love Unlimited’s label, Uni, led White to leave the label for 20th Century Records. In 1973 he released I’ve Got So Much to Give, his first solo album under his name. During this time, White had an idea for an instrumental album leading to the formation of Love Unlimited Orchestra. From 1973 to 1977, he released two albums a year, one solo and one with Love Unlimited Orchestra, and his popularity quickly rose. However, as the decade went on, sales began to wane, leading White to produce no new music from 1983 to 1987.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, White saw a resurgence of his popularity as he began to record again. That resurgence was helped by having guest spots on television shows like The Simpsons and Ally McBeal. However, White also suffered from chronic high blood pressure and hypertension, leading to his being hospitalized for kidney failure in 2002. Though he was undergoing dialysis, his illnesses proved to be too much, and he died on July 4, 2003, in a West Hollywood, California hospital at the age of 58, leaving behind two ex-wives, Mary White and Glodean James, a partner, Katherine Denton, and eight children.