That deep baritone voice. Unmistakable. Silenced since 2003 when he passed away.
Barry White was referred to as the maker of bedroom ballads, accentuated by that velvety voice.
White had a long career as a songwriter, arranger, musician and producer, before most of us heard our first Barry White song, “Love Theme,” an instrumental of the Love Unlimited Orchestra released in 1973. It was a number one Billboard song, a Gold Record and found life as the opening theme for a variety of television programs. When I heard this song I knew it was something special. On my transistor radio I listened for it in the rotation. And this recording was without that deep, voice we came to know.
From 1973-1975, White was involved in the release of ten albums, including the female group Love Unlimited, his Love Unlimited orchestra, a soundtrack album, and then his first solo album, I’ve Got So Much to Give. The man was in demand and he liked to work.
The 1970’s was his most successful decade for chart hits and album sales. His string of high ranking singles, songs we know by the first notes of the songs, include:
- “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More”
- “I’ve Got So Much to Give”
- “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up”
- “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe”
- “You’re the First, Last, My Everything”
- “What Am I Gonna Do With You”
- “It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me”
Barry White’s style was a hybrid soul-disco sound, incorporating the soul world that he had cut his teeth on, and the emerging disco vibe that put his beat in overdrive. White developed his career as an arranger-extraordinaire, first working on other people’s records and then his own. He was a master at mixing orchestral touches to his arrangements the way Phil Spector did a decade earlier in creating his wall of sound. Who knew that stringed instruments could add funk and style to an R&B groove.
We remember the three to four minute radio edits of his songs. If you find his albums you realize he didn’t just write hits for the radio, he had eight to ten minute tracks in his albums. These were hot, soulful mini-symphonies. This was Barry White unchained, and he had the gold chains to prove it. White was a serious musician.
As the 1980’s shifted musical styles, White’s success dipped, although he continued writing and recording with mixed results as his style was passed by with rap, hip-hop and house music.
In the 1990’s, White’s popularity rebounded as he was discovered by younger audiences he recorded duets with other artists, and his earlier hits were used in soundtracks and commercials. Barry White’s distinctive voice was heard in commercials and on the Simpsons.
Barry White never went away, it’s just that we weren’t paying attention. He had so much to give, and after his death, we realized how much that was.