Barry White’s voice is a shorthand for eros in American pop. The singer’s resonant baritone and sultry disco vibes made him a superstar in the ‘70s and a pop culture figure to match. With hits like “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” and “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything,” White had a sound that flirted with romantic camp, but his voice is an indelible part of an era in American pop.
The Texas-born artist moved to Los Angeles as a child and overcame a rough childhood plagued with violence and crime. He was jailed at 16 for stealing tires from a car dealership. But music was always a part of his life, as he performed in church choir and several vocal groups, along with some for-hire work as a session pianist.
His first break came when he produced “Walkin' in the Rain With the One I Love,” a hit for the group Love Unlimited, and he signed with 20th Century Fox Records for most of his ’70s hitmaking career.
White’s career slowed in the ’80s as disco faced a popular backlash. But he regained some prominence in the ’90s with a retro nostalgia for classic R&B and dance music. He finally won his first Grammys in 2000, for best male R&B vocal performance and best traditional R&B vocal performance, on the strength of his album "Staying Power" and its title track. His album "The Icon Is Love" sold more than 2 million copies.
His retro, seductive style become a pop-culture reference point — he performed on a David Letterman “Top Ten” segment “Words That Sound Romantic When Spoken by Barry White,” with entries such as “gingivitis.”
White died in 2003 after suffering from kidney failure, leaving behind his wife, Glodean; partner Catherine Denton, eight children and many grandchildren.