Bill Withers Charms at USC Master Session

The Songwriters Hall of Fame and the USC Thornton School proudly entered into the third year of their association by hosting a Master Session featuring the legendary Bill Withers on Friday September 18, 2015.

Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005, Bill Withers was honored by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 2006 with the Society’s Rhythm & Soul Heritage Award, and most recently was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.

The session began with an interview conducted by Chris Sampson, Vice Dean of Contemporary Music, during their Popular Music Forum at USC's Carson Soundstage. Withers provided the students with a wealth of experience from his childhood and breaking into the business, his initial inspiration from Lou Rawls, his enormously successful string of hits including “Lean on Me,” “Ain't No Sunshine,” “Just the Two of Us” and “Lovely Day” (indicating his personal favorite, “Grandma's Hands”) through his collaborations with Grover Washington Jr., Ralph MacDonald and Booker T. Jones.

Withers generously shared his personal thoughts about gaining immediate stardom after serving in the Navy and his wisdom about the potential pitfalls of show business. After fielding an array of questions from the music majors, the students surprised Bill with an extraordinary musical tribute of his hits featuring dynamic vocalist and USC Popular Music Senior, Javen Smith, backing vocalists and 3 piece ensemble.

The tribute was produced by Patrice Rushen, who serves as Chair of USC's Popular Music Program. “Today’s Master Session went beyond music lessons,” said Chris Sampson. “The discussion got into life lessons. Bill articulated the challenges of confronting fear and the responsibilities of being an artist with sage like insight. It was a deep conversation.”

“Bill Withers created magic for all who attended, speaking eloquently about his songwriting craft,” said SHOF President/CEO Linda Moran. “Once again, Mary Jo Mennella and the West Coast Projects Committee, in tandem with Chris Sampson, have brought an unforgettable experience to the USC students and songwriter communities.”

In attendance from SHOF Board Member Mary Jo Mennella and West Coast Committee Members Kathy Spanberger, Tom DeSavia, Loretta Munoz, Rebekah Alperin and Casey Robison. During the past two years previous Master Sessions at USC have featured Songwriter Hall of Fame Inductees and Special Award Winners David Foster, Billy Steinberg, Benny Blanco, Graham Nash, Donovan and Ralph Peer.