Bill Withers, who wrote and sang a series of soul songs in the 1970s that have stood the test of time, including “Lean on Me”, “Lovely Day” and “Ain’t No Sunshine”, has passed away of heart complications, his family said in a statement to the Associated Press. He was 81 years old.
The triple Grammy winner, who retired from music in the mid-1980s, died in Los Angeles on Monday, the statement said. His death comes as audiences were inspired by his music during the coronavirus pandemic, with healthcare workers, choirs, artists and more who publish their own interpretations on “Lean on Me” to help get across difficult times.
“We are devastated by the loss of our beloved and devoted husband and father. A lonely man with a heart determined to connect with the world at large, with his poetry and music, he spoke honestly to people and connected them to each other, “said the family statement. “A life as private as he lived close to his family and close friends, his music belongs to the world forever. In these difficult times, we pray that his music will provide comfort and entertainment while the fans hold dear to their loved ones. “
Withers’ songs during his brief career have become the soundtrack for countless engagements, weddings, and backyard parties. They have powerful melodies and perfect grooves fused with a soft voice that conveys honesty and complex emotions without vocal acrobatics.
“Lean on Me,” a hymn to friendship, was played at the inaugurations of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean on Me” are among Rolling Stone’s list of 500 greatest songs of all time.
“He is the last African American Everyman,” said musician and band leader Questlove to Rolling Stone in 2015. “Bill Withers is the closest thing black people have to Bruce Springsteen.”
Her death sparked a torrent of appreciation on social media, especially from Obama’s former adviser Valerie Jarrett, who said that Withers’s music was a cherished part of her life. “It added to my joy at the good times, and also gave me comfort and inspiration when I needed it most,” she tweeted.
Billy Dee Williams tweeted “your music applauded my heart and soothed my soul” and Chance the Rapper said that Withers’ songs were “some of the best songs ever” and “my heart really hurts”. Lenny Kravitz said, “My soul has always been and will always be full of your music. “
“We have lost a songwriting giant today,” ASCAP president and president Paul Williams said in a statement. “Bill Withers’ songs are among the most expensive and deepest in the American songbook – universal in how they affect people around the world, transcending genre and generation. He was a magnificent man with an amazing sense of humor and a gift for the truth. “
Withers, who overcame childhood stuttering, was born the last of six children in the mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia. After his parents’ divorce at the age of 3, Withers was raised by his mother’s family in the nearby town of Beckley.
He joined the Navy at 17 and spent nine years in service as an aircraft mechanic installing toilets. After his release, he moved to Los Angeles, worked in an aircraft parts factory, bought a guitar from a pawnshop, and recorded demos of his songs in hopes of winning a recording contract.
In 1971, signed for Sussex Records, he released his first album, “Just As I Am”, at the command of the legendary Booker T. Jones. There were the hits “Grandma’s Hands” and “Ain’t No Sunshine”, inspired by Jack Lemmon’s film “Days of Wine and Roses”. He was photographed on the cover, smiling and holding his lunch bucket.
“Ain’t No Sunshine” was originally released as side B of his first single, “Harlem”. But radio DJs turned the record over and the song rose to # 3 on the Billboard charts and spent a total of 16 weeks in the top 40.
Withers continued to generate more success a year later with the inspiring “Lean on Me”, the threatening “Who Is He (and What Is He to You)” and the slinky “Use Me” on his second album, ” Still Bill. “
Later will come the striking “Lovely Day”, co-written with Skip Scarborough and starring Withers holding the word “day” for almost 19 seconds, and “Just the Two Of Us”, co-written with Ralph MacDonald and William Salter. His “Live at Carnegie Hall” in 1973 made Rolling Stone’s 50 greatest live albums of all time.
“The hardest thing about writing songs is being simple and deep. And Bill seemed to understand, intrinsically and instinctively, how to do this, “said Sting in” Still Bill, “a 2010 documentary by Withers.
But Withers’ career came to a halt when Sussex Records went bankrupt and was taken over by Columbia Records. He was no longer in full control of his music and was irritated when he was offered a cover of Elvis. Its new leaders found Withers difficult.
None of his Columbia albums reached the Top 40 with the exception of 1977 Menagerie which produced Lovely Day. (His successful duo with Grover Washington Jr. “Just the Two of Us” was on the Washington label). Withers’ latest album was “Watching You Watching Me” from 1985.
Although his songs often deal with relationships, Withers also wrote some with social commentary, including “Better Off Dead” on the suicide of an alcoholic and “I Can’t Write Left-Handed”, on a veteran of the Vietnam War wounded.
He received the Grammy Awards as songwriter for “Ain’t No Sunshine” in 1971 and for “Just the Two Of Us” in 1981. In 1987 Bill received his ninth Grammy nomination and the third Grammy as songwriter for the re-recording of the 1972 success “Club Lean on Me”.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 by Stevie Wonder. Withers thanked his wife and the pioneers of R&B who helped his career as Ray Jackson, Al Bell and Booker T. Jones. He also got a few hits in the record industry, claiming that A&R was “antagonistic and redundant.” Withers was also inducted into the Songwriter Hall of Fame in 2005.
Her music has been taken up by artists such as Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Tom Jones, Linda Ronstadt, Paul McCartney, Sting, Johnny Mathis, Aaron Neville, Al Jarreau, Mick Jagger, Nancy Wilson, Diana Ross. His music has been sampled for “No Diggity” by BlackStreet, Will Smith’s version of “Just the Two Of Us”, “Bridging the Gap” by Black Eyed Peas and “Sunshine” by Twista. The song “Lean on Me” was the theme of a 1989 film title starring Morgan Freeman.
His songs are often used on the big screen, including “The Hangover”, “28 Days”, “American Beauty”, “Jerry Maguire”, “Crooklyn”, “Flight”, “Beauty Shop”, “The Secret Life of Pets” . “And” Flight “.
“I’m not a virtuoso, but I was able to write songs that people could relate to. I don’t think I hurt a guy from Slab Fork, West Virginia, “Withers told Rolling Stone in 2015.
He is survived by his wife, Marcia, and his children, Todd and Kori.