R.I.P. Leon Ware, songwriter for Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, has died at 77

Soul and R&B hitmaker also wrote for Minnie Riperton, Quincy Jones, Maxwell, and others

Photo by Jae Feinberg

Leon Ware, a renowned songwriter who penned a number of hits for soul and R&B artists throughout the ’70s, died on Thursday at the age of 77. Ware’s manager confirmed his passing to NPR.

Born in Detroit in 1940, Ware became one of the unsung heroes of the ’70s music scene. He began writing for Motown in his twenties, working for such artists as Ike & Tina Turner (Nuff Said), Michael Jackson (“I Wanna Be Where You Are”), Quincy Jones (“If I Ever Lose This Heaven”), and Minnie Riperton (“Inside My Love”). In 1975, Ware met Marvin Gaye, sparking a friendship that led to the pair collaborating on Gaye’s 1976 album I Want You.

“When we met, I was sitting in his apartment for a good 20 minutes,” Ware told Red Bull Music Academy of his first encounter with Gaye. “I already smelled the welcoming aroma in the place. I had a joint in my pocket, so I pulled it out and started smoking it. As soon as I lit the joint, he came in the room and I reached over and gave it to him. We smoked a good joint before we even introduced ourselves to each other. We were always on the same page.”

Ware would go on to write songs for Bobby Womack, Lulu, Jeffrey Osborne, and in later years, Maxwell, Theophilus London and Michael McDonald. His music has been frequently sampled by hip-hop artists including 2Pac (“How Do U Want It”), Tyler, the Creator (“Back for Another One”), De La Soul (“Foolin’”), and 2 Chainz (“Supafly”). Thundercat wrote the track “Tokyo” off his recent Drunk specifically about a traveling experience he had with Ware.

Throughout all those collaborations, Ware produced 11 solo albums; his most recent US release was the 2008 Stax/Concord effort Moon Ride, while Sigh saw a Japanese-only release in 2012. Revisit some of the highlights from his career below.


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