Leon Ware, a writer and producer of sensual R&B songs who was best known for a memorable collaboration with Marvin Gaye on the 1976 album “I Want You,” died on Feb. 23 in Marina del Rey, Calif. He was 77.
His wife, Carol, said the cause was complications of prostate cancer.
Although he was also a singer, with a smooth tenor voice that evoked comparisons to Gaye’s, Mr. Ware’s influence was strongest behind the scenes, where he worked with Michael Jackson, Minnie Riperton, Quincy Jones and others.
Spin magazine said that Mr. Ware “helped define the ‘quiet storm’ R&B sound that would pave the way for the careers of artists from Sade to Maxwell” and was “responsible for some of the silkiest-sounding records ever produced.”
Mr. Ware said his music reflected his adoration of women.
“When I’m asked why my music has such a deep connection to love and sensuality,” he told the Red Bull Music Academy website last year, “I tell them I’m a messenger. I’m a messenger of love.”
He and Gaye were kindred spirits, but it was only through serendipity that they teamed up. Mr. Ware was at Motown recording a demo for Arthur Ross, Diana Ross’s younger brother, known as T-Boy, who wanted a contract with the label. But when Berry Gordy Jr., Motown’s founder, heard “I Want You,” he brought it to Gaye, who “fell in love with the song,” Mr. Ware told Red Bull Music.
Soon after, Mr. Ware was at Gaye’s home, playing a cassette of his songs for his own forthcoming album, tentatively called “Comfort,” his wife recalled in an interview. Mr. Gaye listened to the fully orchestrated songs — among them “Come Live With Me Angel,” a duet that Mr. Ware sang with Ms. Riperton — and asked what he was playing.
“It’s my new album,” Mr. Ware said.
They listened to the songs for hours, over and over. Then, Mr. Ware told an interviewer, Mr. Gaye said to him, “If you give me the album, I’ll do the whole thing.”
Mr. Ware said he did not mind. “I brought the music, but the magic that Marvin brought with his vocals made it a classic,” he said. “I had a body, but Marvin and me dressed it together.”
Mr. Ware was listed as a producer and shared composing credits with Mr. Gaye, Mr. Ross and Jacqueline Hilliard.
The album and its title song both reached No. 1 on Billboard’s soul charts. The song was also a Top 20 pop single.
Mr. Gaye’s collaboration with Mr. Ware was one of his deepest, said David Ritz, author of a biography of Mr. Gaye. “The Marvinization of Leon’s original work was pretty nuanced,” he said in an interview. “They were so close in their sensibilities that it’s almost as though Marvin had written it.”
Mr. Ritz said that the two shared “an orchestral view of soul music” that was “very lush and harmonically complex.”
Leon Ware was born in Detroit on Feb. 16, 1940. His father, Frank, worked on the assembly line at the Ford Motor Company, and his mother, the former Vera Hill, ran a beauty school. He was one of 11 children whose brothers “made sure I knew how to fight,” and whose sisters “taught me about the ladies,” he told JazzWax.
As a teenager, he sang at a jazz bar with the saxophonist Yusef Lateef and formed a group, the Romeos, whose other members included the future Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier.
Mr. Ware began writing songs in the 1960s, with “Got to Have You Back,” sung by the Isley Brothers, his breakthrough hit. In 1972, Michael Jackson had a Top 20 pop hit with “I Wanna Be Where You Are,” which Mr. Ware wrote with T-Boy Ross.
“My musical core is 50 percent jazz and 50 percent R&B,” Mr. Ware told JazzWax. “Even before I began writing songs professionally, my influence was jazz. What you hear on ‘I Want You’ are jazz chords against R&B flavors.”
As a singer, Mr. Ware exuded the same cool sensuality found in his work for others. Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote that Mr. Ware “fused elegance and abandon, confidence and longing, need and fulfillment.”
In addition to his wife, the former Carol Cassano, Mr. Ware is survived by his sons, Mark and Leon; a granddaughter, Zaria; and two brothers, Robert and Bernard. A daughter, Laura, died in 2003.
Ms. Ware said her husband was working on an album, “Rainbow Deux,” at his death. “He put every ounce of strength into new music,” she said.