LOS ANGELES – Velvet-voiced R&B crooner Barry White, renowned for his lush baritone and lyrics that oozed sex appeal on songs such as “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe,” died Friday morning, his manager said.
White, who had suffered kidney failure from years of high blood pressure, died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center around 9:30 a.m., said manager Ned Shankman. He was 58.
White had been undergoing dialysis treatment and had been hospitalized since last September.
His work epitomized seductive disco music, also known as “make out” music. The heavyset musician enjoyed three decades of fame for songs like “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” and “It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me.”
White’s canyon-deep, butter-smooth vocals and throbbing musical tempos emphasized his songs’ sexually charged verbal foreplay. His 1975 song “Love Serenade” began with the purring, first-person lyrics: “I want you the way you came into the world/ I don’t want to feel no clothes …”
Although his popularity peaked in the 1970s, White received belated recognition for his work in 2000 when he won his first two Grammys (news – web sites) for best male and traditional R&B vocal performance for the song “Staying Power.”
Born Sept. 12, 1944, in Galveston, Texas, to a single mother, White and his younger brother, Darryl, spent most of their childhood in south central Los Angeles. He said he had a lifelong love for music. During his early teenage years, he began singing in a Baptist church choir and was quickly promoted to director.
In 1990, White told Ebony magazine that his voice changed overnight from the squeaky tones of a preadolescent to the rumbling bass that made him famous.
“It scared me and my mother when I spoke that morning,” he said. “It was totally unexpected. My chest rattled. I mean vibrations. My mother was staring at me, and I was staring at her. The next thing I new, her straight face broke into a beautiful smile. Tears came down her face and she said, ‘My son’s a man now.'”
He was jailed at age 16 for stealing tires, a punishment he credited with helping him straighten out his life and dedicate his efforts to music.
Inspired by the Elvis Presley song “It’s Now or Never,” White joined the Upfronts soul group as bass singer and cut six singles. For several years, he stayed away from performing and focused on work behind the scenes as a songwriter and producer.
He married a childhood sweetheart, identified only as Mary in his autobiography, and fathered four children with her before they separated in 1969 and later divorced.
White discovered the female trio Love Unlimited — which included his future second wife, Glodean James — and produced their million-selling 1972 single “Walkin’ in the Rain With the One I Love.”
The next year, White returned to performing with the song “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby,” which topped the R&B chart and hit No. 3 on the pop chart.
He is credited by some for helping launch the disco phenomenon with his orchestral “Love’s Theme” in 1973, which he conducted with his group, The Love Unlimited Orchestra.
In 1974, his album “Can’t Get Enough” climbed to the top of the pop charts on the strength of the signature hits “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” and “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything.”
That year he also married James. The couple had four children together and collaborated on the 1981 album “Barry & Glodean,” which featured the songs “I Want You” and “You’re the Only One for Me.” They divorced in 1988, but he said they always remained good friends.
White suffered a family tragedy in 1983 when his brother, Darryl, was shot and killed in a dispute with a neighbor over change from a $20 bill. In his 1999 autobiography, “Love Unlimited: Insights on Life and Love,” Barry White said music likely spared him a similar fate.
After working on more than a dozen albums in the 1970s, his career waned over the next decade as he attempted small comebacks with the albums “The Right Night & Barry White” (1987) and “The Man is Back!” (1989.)
He enjoyed a larger resurgence with 1994 album “The Icon Is Love,” and his ballad “Practice What You Preach” became his first No. 1 hit in 17 years. Toward the end of the 1990s, his songs were regularly featured on the Fox comedy series “Ally McBeal” and he made an appearance on the show as himself.
His single “Staying Power,” off a 1999 album of the same name, won White two Grammys and proved he hadn’t tamed his libidinous lyrics. “Put on my favorite dress, the one that oozes sexiness,” he cooed in the title track’s opening lines.
That year White’s chronic blood pressure problem forced him to cancel several live performances with the group Earth, Wind & Fire and he was briefly hospitalized.
White’s survivors include eight children, grandchildren, and his companion Catherine Denton.