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Leon Ware, Songwriter Behind Several R&B Powerhouses, Dies

Songwriter, producer and singer Leon Ware at the 2016 ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif. in June 2016. Ware died TKTK.
Earl Gibson III
Getty Images
Songwriter, producer and singer Leon Ware at the 2016 ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif. in June 2016. Ware died TKTK.

One of the underheralded architects of soul music has died: songwriter producer and singer Leon Ware, who penned classics for such artists as Marvin Gaye, The Isley Brothers, Michael Jackson, Minnie Riperton, Quincy Jones and many more. He died Thursday at the age 77. His death was confirmed by his manager.

Born in Detroit in 1940, Ware became a Motown songwriter in his twenties. Soon, he was writing for the who's who of Motor City — including Marvin Gaye, whose funk-infused 1976 album I Want You was co-produced by Ware, who also co-wrote every tune on the release.

Ware's work also became a staple source of samples for major hip-hop artists, including Tupac Shakur, A Tribe Called Quest and Jay Z; in 1996, he collaborated with Maxwell in writing the tune "Sumthin' Sumthin'," a single on the landmark neo-soul album Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite. In 2014, he was credited as the "creative producer," as well as a featured artist, composer and producer on Theophilus London's album Vibes.

In a review of a Leon Ware show at New York's Blue Note club in 2008, The New York Times' Jon Pareles wrote that his performances were "incantations delivered in weightless, improvisatory vocals above undulating grooves; they're entreaties of yearning and devotion ... he was a preacher of sensuality in his pulpit."

His last commercial release in the U.S. was made for Stax/Concord: the 2008 solo album Moon Ride. In 2012, he released the album Sigh in Japan.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.
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