Leon Ware, the renowned songwriter, producer and singer who penned hits for artists like Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones, died Thursday. His manager confirmed the singer’s death to NPR. He was 77.
Ware co-produced and co-wrote Gaye’s classic 1976 LP I Want You, which featured the chart-topping title track and “After the Dance.” Ware also co-wrote hits like Jackson’s “I Wanna Be Where You Are,” Minnie Riperton’s “Inside My Love,” Quincy Jones’ “If I Ever Lose This Heaven” and Maxwell’s “Sumthin’, Sumthin’.”
“Rest in heavenly peace, Mr. Leon Ware, you will be missed,” Maxwell tweeted.
In an Instagram tribute, Questlove listed Ware-penned 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.
Born in Detroit, the home of Motown, Ware began his career writing for artists like the Isley Brothers, Ike & Tina Turner, the Four Tops and Bobby Womack. Ware also formed a successful songwriting tandem with Diana Ross’ brother Arthur “T-Boy” Ross in addition to his own solo singing career, which began in 1972 with his own self-titled LP.
In the early half of the Seventies, Ware began working with Jones and Riperton, who turned Ware’s “Inside My Love” into a hit in 1975. Soon after, Ware was recruited to work with Gaye after Motown honcho Berry Gordy gave the singer Ware’s demo for “I Want You.”
In a 2016 interview with the Red Bull Music Academy, Ware talked about his first encounter with Gaye. “When we met, I was sitting in his apartment for a good 20 minutes. 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,” Ware said. “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.”
After Ware played Gaye a collection of songs he wrote for Minnie Riperton, Gaye suggested that Ware write the entirety of what would become I Want You. “‘That is a great idea, but Berry will never go for that,'” Ware recalled saying. “[Gaye] turned around with this look in his eye and said, ‘We don’t have to tell him.’ That collaboration turned out to be the most enjoyable, important and enduring experience of my entire life.”
In later years, Ware worked with artists like Maxwell, Theophilus London and Michael McDonald. Ware-penned tracks have also been widely sampled in hip-hop, with artists like Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur and A Tribe Called Quest among those utilizing Ware’s music.
“Tokyo,” a song on bass extraordinaire Thundercat’s just-released new LP Drunk, was also inspired by Ware.