Leon Ware: The Master of Mellow Soul Tunes Dies

A whole generation of genius Soul, Jazz and Funk musicians is dying. After the recent passing of George Duke, Joe Sample, Maurice White and Al Jarreau, the genius producer, composer and Soul singer Leon Ware died today (U.S. west coast time), at age 77. In 2009, he had been treated for prostate cancer.

Leon Ware’s songwriting career started in 1967, when many of us were still in diapers or not even conceived. Over the years, he composed and co-composed countless brilliant Soul tunes for just as many fellow artists and groups, among them The Isley Brothers, the late Michael Jackson, Donny Hathaway, Quincy Jones, the late Minnie Riperton, the late Marvin Gaye, the late Teena Marie, The Loose Ends, James Ingram, the late Bobby Womack, and Maxwell.

Several of the tunes Leon Ware wrote became big hits. Those included “If I Ever Lose This Heaven”, which was recorded by both Quincy Jones and The Average White Band. “I Wanna Be Where You Are” is another Leon Ware composition, which was played and recorded by many artists, including Ware himself. “I Want You”, yet another big one, was sung by Marvin Gaye and played by radio stations all over the globe.

The American music journalist A. Scott Galloway, who had known Leon Ware for decades, reacted on a well-known social media website, by saying there had been “more life and love philosophy than I’ll ever be able to remember, so much laughter, so much breaking bread with a purposed musical legend who had a heart of gold, and enjoying the warm hospitality of he and his lovely, lovely wife, Carol.”

Jan Kincaid, drummer and bandleader of the MF Robots, said Leon Ware had been an artist “who always brought the sensuality through. The lights in your house would turn down by themselves and champagne would chill by itself.” Kincaid, a former founding member of The Brand New Heavies, also wrote this: “A love light has gone out.”

As recently as 2008, Leon toured Europe, hitting a stage in Amsterdam with the U.K.-based vocalist Carleen Anderson. A few years back, he also cooperated with the British Jazz-Funk group Incognito. Relatively young “real music” lovers still know Leon Ware tunes, e.g. if they danced to Maxwell’s “Sumthin Sumthin” in 1999.

The genius of Leon Ware also became evident in the music he recorded himself, on a total of 11 studio albums, released since 1972. Most of his tunes were too beautiful to be real. The recipe consisted of his silky Soul voice and his very convincing compositions, along with arrangements every detail of which was (and still is) brilliant. “Rockin’ You Eternally”, recorded in 1981, is a good example for a romantic Soul tune of a kind only one artist came up with: Leon Ware. While other Soul artists, including some of the best ones, started overproducing their music with too much synth and drum programming in the 1980-s, Leon Ware kept to the real thing.

He explained to his fans “Why I Came to California”, where he was “watching all those pretty girls” in 1982, he wanted to be “On the Island” with his love in 1979 and was “Learning How to Love You” in 1976. The latter tune is so beautiful, it can make grown men cry. So can Leon’s death.

By Imanuel Marcus

Photo by J. Feinberg.

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