On the musical heritage of Bill Withers: NPR

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Bill Withers, pictured here in 2006, was an artist more concerned with writing stories about humanity’s pain than landing a pop hit.

Saxon reed / AP

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Saxon reed / AP

Bill Withers, pictured here in 2006, was an artist more concerned with writing stories about humanity’s pain than landing a pop hit.

Saxon reed / AP

“And, I’m going to paint your pretty picture with a song” – Bill Withers

There is a song buried on the second side of Make music (1975), the first album by Bill Withers produced for Columbia after his previous label Sussex, founded by the sponsor Black Clarence Avant, folded. “Paint Your Pretty Picture” is easy to ignore alongside some of the – truly modern – successes Withers has written and performed, such as “Lean on Me”, “Ain’t No Sunshine”, “Grandma’s Hands” and “Lovely Day . “However,” Paint Your Pretty Picture “, from its opening line,” I will sometimes linger and show sadness to people I know who are now gone, “said so much about an artist more concerned with telling the stories of love and loss he witnessed in a world that needed hope, and like someone who understood the pain of humanity.

Like “Paint Your Pretty Picture”, it could have been easy to forget Bill Withers, who avoided the spotlight, after the release of his last studio album in 1985. Withers, who died this week at the age of 81, is become famous. in what was one of the most important eras of black music, especially for male soul singers. Withers had neither the larger-than-life characters of Marvin Gaye and Isaac Hayes, nor the musical gravitas associated with Donny Hathaway, Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder. Withers did not have the melodious voice of Al Green and Billy Paul, and although he was an alpha male, he had none of the hypermasculine energy of Teddy Pendergrass. But damn it if you didn’t feel every word he wrote and every word he sang.

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