With his deep, husky voice, lush musical arrangements, and often love-themed songs, singer/songwriter/producer Barry White became a 1970s sex symbol (despite his chubby physique). He was also a pioneering producer in disco, who often used large orchestras on his records.
An eight-year-old White made his singing debut in a Galveston church choir. Two years later he was the church organist and part-time choir director. At 16, he joined the Upfronts, an L.A. R&B band, as a singer/pianist. Two years later he helped arrange "The Harlem Shuffle," a minor hit in 1963 for Bob and Earl.
White developed his writing and production skills. In 1966 he went to work as an A&R man for Mustang Records, where he discovered a female vocal trio called Love Unlimited (Diana Taylor, Linda and Glodean James). He produced their gold single, 1972's "Walking in the Rain With the One I Love" (#14 pop, #6 R&B) for Uni Records. In 1973 White signed with 20th Century–Fox Records and made his national recording debut with "I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby" (#3 pop, #1 R&B), "Never, Never, Gonna Give Ya Up" (#7 pop, #2 R&B), and "I've Got So Much to Give" (#32 pop, #5 R&B). Also that year he started to write for the Love Unlimited Orchestra, with whom he had a string-laden instrumental disco hit, "Love's Theme" (#1 pop, #10 R&B). Love Unlimited's "Under the Influence" was also a big hit. In 1973–74 alone, White wrote, produced, or performed on records whose total sales exceeded over $16 million. Among his gold records are Rhapsody in White by the Love Unlimited Orchestra (#8 pop), Can't Get Enough (#1 pop), "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Baby" (#1 pop and R&B), "You're the First, the Last, My Everything" (#2 pop, #1 R&B, 1974); Just Another Way to Say I Love You (#17 pop), and Barry White's Greatest Hits (#23 pop). In 1977 Barry White Sings for Someone You Love (#8 pop) went platinum and "It's Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me" (#4 pop, #1 R&B) went gold. Subsequent R&B hit singles including "Playing Your Game, Baby" (#8 R&B, 1978) and "Your Sweetness Is My Weakness" (#2 R&B, 1978).
By the late '70s, White's appeal was fading, though he scored minor hits with a cover of Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are" (#44 R&B, 1979) and with the title track from 1982's Change. With wife Glodean, White released an album and two minor R&B chart singles, "Didn't We Make It Happen, Baby" (#78 R&B, 1981) and "I Want You" (#79 R&B, 1981). In the late '80s his career experienced something of a resurgence, with "Sho' You Right" (#17 R&B, 1987) and "For Your Love (I'll Do Most Anything)" (#27 R&B, 1987), followed by "The Secret Garden (Sweet Seduction Suite)" (#31 pop, #1 R&B, 1990) from Quincy Jones' Back on the Block, "I Wanna Do It Good to You" (#26 R&B, 1990), "When Will I See You Again" (#32 R&B, 1990), and "Put Me in Your Mix" (#2 R&B, 1991). He also appears on Big Daddy Kane's 1991 R&B hit "All of Me." In late 1994 he returned to the top of the R&B chart with "Practice What You Preach" (#18 pop, #1 R&B) from the platinum The Icon Is Love (#20 pop, #1 R&B). "Come On" (#87 pop, #12 R&B) followed in 1995. In 1996 White sang on R&B hits by Quincy Jones and Tina Turner. The aptly titled Staying Power (#43 pop, #13 R&B) won two R&B Grammys and proved that he hadn't lost his potency in 1999. That same year he published an autobiography, Love Unlimited. By mid-2000 he was appearing regularly on the hit television show Ally McBeal.
After years of battling high blood pressure that eventually resulted in renal failure, Barry White suffered a stroke in May of 2003. He finally passed away two months later on July 4th at the age of 58. He was posthumously inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in September, 2004.
Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).