One of soul music’s most enduring and impactful figures, Barry White is finally set to be awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Sept. 12. If the honor feels a bit overdue for a man who died a decade ago and experienced his greatest success at an age when R&B’s current leading men were still in diapers, it’s all on par for a career that was often a few steps ahead of the culture at large.
Little about White’s career adhered to conventional wisdom. As a juvenile delinquent growing up in the Los Angeles community of Watts, White found his ticket into music singing and playing piano in church. Despite being blessed with one of popular music’s most distinctive baritones, he was content to remain behind the scenes as a producer and A&R man for his first decade in the business. Undeterred by his gargantuan figure, he emerged as a highly sexualized star in the age of disco, which worshipped svelte youth and fitness. And he enjoyed some of his most widespread visibility in the 1990s, long after his musical heyday had passed.
A quintessential model for the producer-turned-star, White was also a standard-bearer for urban music’s inclination toward aspirational opulence — a quality reflected in his huge ensemble arrangements, which at one point included an 80-woman orchestra.