Leon Ware, the songwriting icon who wrote hits for Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, the Isley Brothers and Quincy Jones, died on Thursday at the age of 77

By Jordan Runtagh
February 24, 2017 12:15 PM
Credit: David Corio/Redferns

Leon Ware, the songwriter behind hits for R&B titans including Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, the Isley Brothers and Quincy Jones died on Thursday at the age of 77. Though the cause of death has yet to be revealed, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the mid ’00s.

Born on Feb. 16, 1940 in Detroit, Ware began his career in the late ’60s as a songwriter for Berry Gordy’s Motown label, where he first began collaborating with Gaye, one of the imprint’s brightest stars. He would later co-produce the singer’s 1976 offering, I Want You—co-writing every track. The record would go on to sell over a million copies.

Perhaps the crowning achievement of Ware’s early Motown career is the Isley Brother’s 1967 proto-funk track, “Got to Have You Back.”

At the dawn of the ’70s, Ware teamed up with Motown diva Diana Ross‘ brother Arthur “T-Boy” Ross, penning the song “I Wanna Be Where You Are.” The tune found its way onto Motown golden boy Michael Jackson’s solo debut, Got to Be There, in 1972.

The song’s success on the R&B charts netted Ware a solo record contract of his own, leading to his self-titled debut later that year. The disc failed to chart, but influenced a generation of soul artists.

As his reputation soared, Ware worked with a host of artists throughout the ’70s, including Ike and Tina Turner, the Isley Brothers, Donny Hathaway, Minnie Riperton and the Miracles. Production maestro Quincy Jones, later the guiding hand behind the King of Pop’s Off the Wall and Thriller smashes,tapped Ware to co-write two songs—including the title track—on his 1974 jazz fusion album, Body Heat.

As the new millennium approached, Ware’s work frequently appeared as samples in hip hop tracks by the likes of Tupac Shakur, Jay Z, and A Tribe Called Quest.

More recently, Ware served as composer and producer on Theophilus London’s 2014 album, Vibes.

Lenny Kravitz shared a tribute to Ware on Instagram Friday afternoon, delivering a comprehensive rundown of the late artist’s musical highlights to his followers.

“Leon Ware. The man behind Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You,” and songs for Michael Jackson, @QuincyDJones, @Maxwell, Minnie Riperton and many more as well as so many great albums of his own including #musicalmassage.”