Bill Withers, the singer-songwriter whose soulful hit songs “Lean On Me,” “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lovely Day” became part of the soundtrack for a generation, has died from heart complications at 81 years old.
Bill Withers died Monday in Los Angeles of heart complications, as per his family.
“We are devastated by the loss of our beloved, devoted husband and father. A solitary man with a heart-driven to connect to the world at large, with his poetry and music, he spoke honestly to people and connected them to each other,” his family said in a statement. “As private a life as he lived close to intimate family and friends, his music forever belongs to the world. In this difficult time, we pray his music offers comfort and entertainment as fans hold tight to loved ones.”
His songs have been viewed as immortal and “Lean On Me” has experienced a resurgence during the coronavirus pandemic on account of its inspiring message of community support.
“Bill Withers is the closest thing black people have to a Bruce Springsteen,” musician Quest Love told Rolling Stone in 2015.
Bill Withers’ passing was grieved Friday across musical genres and walks of life on Twitter.
“Rest in power Bill Withers. Your voice, songs, and total expression gave us love, hope, and strength,” rocker Lenny Kravitz tweeted. “My soul always has & always will be full of your music. Your humility displayed & depth of your power as you carried us all to a better place. You’re still & always will be Bill.”
Born in Slab Fork, West Virginia, Bill Withers conquered a stutter as a child and joined the Navy as a teen.
After a nine-year stint in the military, Bill Withers moved to Los Angeles in 1967 to seek after a career in music, taking a job at the Boeing airplane organization where he made toilet seats during the day.
At night Bill Withers cut demos and eventually met the head of Sussex Records, the now popular music director Clarence Avant.
Wither’s first album, “Just As I Am,” was released in 1971 and incorporated the singles “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Grandma’s Hands.”
“Ain’t No Sunshine” was a hit and in 1972 Bill Withers brought home a Grammy for the single.
That same year, “Lean On Me,” a song Bill Withers composed in the wake of being inspired by his childhood growing up in West Virginia, went to No. 1 on the R&B chart.
The hit has since been covered by a few different artists, including Club Nouveau. Their version won Bill Withers a Grammy in 1987 as the songwriter.
The song is likewise the theme for the 1989 Morgan Freeman film of a similar name and was performed at the initiations for both President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama.
His 1972 album, “Still Bill,” propelled another hit with “Use Me.”
A legal fight with Sussex prompted him to sign with Columbia Records where he recorded “Lovely Day” as a major aspect of the 1977 album, “Menagerie.” Bill Withers co-wrote the 1980 hit “Just The Two of Us,” which he recorded with saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. The tune won him his second-best R&B song Grammy in 1981.
Bill Withers was accepted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.
His songwriting capacity was as hailed as his singing.
“We lost a giant of songwriting today,” Paul Williams, president and chairman of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers said in an announcement. “Bill Withers’ songs are among the most treasured and profound in the American songbook — universal in the way they touch people all over the world, transcending genre and generation.”
“He was a beautiful man with a stunning sense of humor and a gift for truth,” Williams continued. “I will miss him personally as will the entire ASCAP family. We love you, Bill. Our hearts go out to his family.”
In 1973 Withers made featured when he wedded “Room 222” actress Denise Nicholas yet the couple divorced a year later.
Bill Withers wedded Marcia Johnson in 1976 and is survived by her and their son and daughter, Todd and Kori.