Soul Music Icon Leon Ware dies at age 77

He was a soul music Renaissance Man. A singer, songwriter, and producer who was revered by his contemporaries and who quietly created some of the greatest soul music of all time for countless artists from Marvin Gaye to Maxwell.  We are extremely sad to report that Leon Ware, a past SoulTracks Lifetime Achievement Award winner, has died at age 77 of prostate cancer.

Born and raised in Detroit, Ware joined Motown in the late 60s and by the early 70s was one of that label's key writers - often at the expense of his own singing career.

He was a soul music Renaissance Man. A singer, songwriter, and producer who was revered by his contemporaries and who quietly created some of the greatest soul music of all time for countless artists from Marvin Gaye to Maxwell.  We are extremely sad to report that Leon Ware, a past SoulTracks Lifetime Achievement Award winner, has died at age 77 of prostate cancer.

Born and raised in Detroit, Ware joined Motown in the late 60s and by the early 70s was one of that label's key writers - often at the expense of his own singing career.

Ware's first major composition, the Isley Brothers' "Got To Have You Back," appeared on their Soul On The Rocks CD, and Ware helped Michael Jackson launch his solo career with "I Wanna Be Where You Are," a classic cut that has been remade dozens of times (most notably by Jose Feliciano and Chaka Khan).  But perhaps his most memorable contribution at Motown was his thematic disc with Marvin Gaye, I Want You, considered by many to be among Motown's greatest albums of the 70s.  The album was originally written by Ware for his own use, but he ended up handing Gaye a masterpiece, with Ware's production and songwriting taking Gaye in a musical direction markedly different than either What's Goin' On or Let's Get It On.

By the late 70s, artists outside of Motown were clamoring for Ware's help, and over the next 20 years he wrote dozens of wonderful cuts that became hits for artists such as the Average White Band ("If I Ever Lose This Heaven"), Peabo Bryson ("Lovers After All" with Melissa Manchester), the Main Ingredient ("Rolling Down a Mountainside"), Jeffrey Osborne ("Forever Mine") and Maxwell ("Sumthin' Sumthin'").  His work as a producer and backing vocalist also continued with artists such as Bobby Womack, El DeBarge, Teena Marie, Billy Griffin, the Isley Brothers, Omar, and Michael McDonald.

Unfortunately, while he was making hits for others, Ware's own singing career often suffered.  Despite recording a handful of critically acclaimed albums for Motown and Elektra during the 70s and 80s, he remained criminally underappreciated by many outside the music industry. 

Ware continued to record sporadically in the 90s, but at the end of that decade began a new period of productivity and a more concentrated effort to establish his solo performing career.  He released Candlelight to good response and followed it with Love's Drippin' and Deeper over the next couple of years. In 2005 he released A Kiss In The Sand on his own Kitchen Records and he followed it three years later with Moon Ride on Stax Records. Most recently he issued the album Sigh overseas in 2015.

As he reached his later years, the power of Ware’s incredible music legacy continued to grow, and he remained active working on his own music and that of others. I was honored to get to know Leon and his wife Carol over the years with SoulTracks, and came to admire him not just as an artist, but also greatly as a person who freely shared his gift and, in the process, helped so many younger artists. It was to honor his amazing talent and spirit that we presented Leon with our SoulTracks Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.

While never quite becoming a household name, Leon Ware has left an indelible mark in the history of soul music, and will be deeply missed. He was a blessing to us all.

By Chris Rizik

 
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