Barry White, singer, producer, and songwriter, was born Barry Eugene Carter on September 12, 1944, in Galveston, Texas. Introduced to classical music and gospel singing at an early age, he began his professional career as a piano player and went on to become a successful soul crooner, topping the charts in the 1970s.
White was raised in the high-crime area of Los Angeles, and despite having played piano on Jesse Belvin’s classic song “Goodnight My Love” when he was just eleven, he found himself drawn into criminal activity. He dropped out of high school in 1959. Jailed in his teens for stealing tires, he was introduced to the music of Elvis Presley while incarcerated and decided to pursue music as a career. Upon his release, he began singing professionally with vocal groups such as the Upfronts, the Majestics, and the Atlantics. He also performed and recorded as a solo act under the name “Barry Lee.”
In addition to performing, White began to experience success as a songwriter, arranger, and artist and repertoire (A&R) representative in the mid-1960s. He got an A&R job with industry veteran Bob Keane and in this capacity worked with artists signed on Keane’s Mustang, Del-Fi, and Bronco labels. One of the hot bands on the Mustang roster was the Bobby Fuller Four of El Paso, Texas. They scored a Top 10 hit with “I Fought the Law” in early 1966. White arranged Bob & Earl’s hit “Harlem Shuffle,” which went on to score big in the United Kingdom in 1969.
White eventually moved into independent production. The moderate success he experienced in the 1960s was eclipsed when he began producing a female group called Love Unlimited. Working with the women for two years, he developed their sound and style and led them to a recording contract with Uni Records, distributed by national powerhouse MCA. Love Unlimited’s debut album, produced by White, was released in 1972 and sold more than one million copies. The song “Walkin’ in the Rain With the One I Love,” went to the top of Billboard’s R&B chart, as well as becoming a hit in the United Kingdom. The song, written, arranged, and produced by White, also featured his voice in what would become a trademark spoken croon. In 1973 he recorded the Love Unlimited Orchestra. Originally assembled to back Love Unlimited, the Love Unlimited Orchestra had a Number 1 hit with their instrumental song “Love’s Theme.”
White, who was comfortable producing behind the scenes, was reluctant to step forward as a recording artist, but business partner Larry Nunes convinced him to pursue that avenue. In 1973 White released his first major label solo album, I’ve Got So Much to Give. This album yielded three chart hits, including “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little Bit More Baby,” which hit Number 1 on the Billboard R&B chart and Number 3 on the Pop chart. A string of hits in the early 1970s firmly established him as a successful solo artist, including “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe,” which topped Billboard’s Pop chart at Number 1, and “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything,” which hit Number 2—both in 1974. That same year he married Glodean James, the lead singer of Love Unlimited. They continued to release hit records, including “I Belong to You.”
White maintained his success throughout the 1970s on 20th Century Records and helped to create the sound of the “disco” era with his sexual lyrics and soulful delivery. His television appearances included Soul Train, The Today Show, and Dinah! (Dinah Shore’s program). During the 1980s a change in his management led to his leaving 20th Century Records. After a deal with CBS, he eventually signed with A&M in 1992 and released several albums, including The Man is Back! and The Icon is Love, which went multi-platinum and featured what All Music Guide referred to as his “deep steam engine baritone pipes.” In 1999 he released his final album, Staying Power. The song "Staying Power," was his last major hit, earning White two Grammy awards for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance. His career boasted a staggering 106 gold and 41 platinum albums and worldwide sales of more than 100 million.
White also enjoyed success as an actor, providing voice-over performances for animated films and television shows including The Simpsons. His voice was in great demand for commercial work, and he can be heard in spots for cars, restaurants, and other products. He was featured in person on the television show Ally McBeal, which also featured his music prominently.
In May 2003 White suffered a stroke after a long battle with high blood pressure and kidney failure. He died at Cedars Sinai Hospital in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, on July 4, 2003. He had married twice during his lifetime and was survived by several children. White was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in 2004, and he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2013.