Powerhouse Soul Legend Leon Ware Dead at 77
Within the deeply-felt framework known as soul music, there are familiar names that recur both on the artist and personnel sides of many tracks. Leon Ware is one such name. The renowned songwriter, singer, and producer who made a name for himself in the highest echelons of soul and R&B music for more than 50 years, died Thursday, Feb. 21, 2017. He was 77.
Ware was known as one of the music world’s most prolific and respected musical talents, yet was undeniably Motown’s best kept secret during the 1960s and 70s. Ware was the musical heavy hitter behind such all-time favorite classics as “I Wanna Be Where You Are” (Michael Jackson, 1972), “Body Heat” (Quincy Jones’ first gold album, 1974), “If I Ever Lose This Heaven” (Quincy Jones, 1974), and “Inside My Love” (Minnie Riperton, 1975).
In 1976, Ware also wrote and produced Marvin Gaye’s quintessential classic soul album, “I Want You,” which featured the chart-topping title track and “After the Dance.” In a 2014 interview, the then 72-year-old artist reflected on his success following the release of “I Want You.” “Having done this when I was in my early thirties, I feel honored to still be here man,” said Ware. “To still be here, to still love the work — it’s interesting that they call what I do work, when I love it so much!”
In an Instagram tribute, Questlove name checked Ware-written classics like “I Wanna Be Where You Are,” “I Want You” and “Inside My Love.” “These jams made the world better. All due respect to the author of the sexiest pen game #LeonWare. Master Craftsman. Will be missed. Master of words,” the drummer wrote. Questlove previously placed “Inside My Love” on his 2002 compilation “Babies Makin’ Babies.”
Ware’s exhaustive list of musical contributions also includes collaborations with world-famous soul and pop legends and contemporary jazz artists, including Donny Hathaway, Johnny Mathis, Nancy Wilson, Isaac Hayes, the Isley Brothers and Ike & Tina Turner. Ware’s soulful influence was distinctive on the tracks of newer artists, such as John Legend (“So High”), and hip-hop’s Tupac Shakur, Ice Cube, A Tribe Called Quest and G-Unit, to name a few. Ware also co-wrote Maxwell’s 1996 hit, “Sumthin’, Sumthin’.”
“Rest in heavenly peace, Mr. Leon Ware, you will be missed,” Maxwell tweeted.
The youngest of eleven children, and the seventh son, Ware was born in Detroit on Feb. 16, 1940. As a boy, an accident with a slingshot left him totally blind for two years. Consequently, Ware was sent to the Michigan School For The Blind, which incidentally is the same school that Stevie Wonder attended. At age nine, Ware began writing love songs, with his first being titled, “The Girl Of My Dreams.”
As a teen, he joined Motown Records working behind the scenes in the ’60s, then at Bell Records, turning freelance at the start of the ‘70s. Ware rejoined Motown and co-wrote Michael Jackson’s 1972 hit “I Wanna Be Where You Are” with Diana Ross’ brother, T-Boy Ross.
It was with Ross that Ware began working on his signature romantic song suite that was intended to be his solo debut, but fate had other intentions. Motown boss Berry Gordy heard the tunes and persuaded Ware to give the songs to Gaye, in return for being allowed to produce the superstar. The resulting “I Want You” album would be heralded as one of Gaye’s finest artistic achievements.
Ware was best known for producing the works of others, and went on to co- write with more successful artists, including Teena Marie, Jeffrey Osborne, Loose Ends, James Ingram, Melissa Manchester, Bobby Womack and dozens more. Ware also influenced several music genres, such as Neo-soul, and become a popular source for hip hopper to sample. Under his own moniker, Ware released “Taste The Love” (1995); “Candlelight” (2001), with jazz legend Don Grusin; and “Love’s Drippin’” (2003), a sensual, soulful and romantic signature collection. “A Kiss In The Sand” (2004), blended his soulful voice with his deep love of Brazilian music. Ware was also a consummate stage performer, delivering his distinctive sound around the globe.
In 2009, Ware was treated for prostate cancer but fervently continued his creative output, including a writing children’s book and, just weeks ago, finishing a Last month, British Soul artist Omar Lye-Fook released his latest album, which featured Ware on the tune, “Gave My Heart.”
“So low right now, My Friend and Mentor Leon Ware has joined the ancestors, my deepest heartfelt condolences to (wife) Carol, (son) Mark and the family,” wrote Lye-Fook via a Facebook post. “RIP my brother from another, I was blessed to know/talk/sing and laugh with you, so many good memories that will keep me smiling for years to come.”