Beloved R&B master tunesmith won four Grammys
Wrote timeless classics "Lean on Me" "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Just the Two of Us"
Bill Withers is one of America's premier singer/songwriters. Combining soulful warmth, a folksy, genuine feel, and an immediately recognizable voice, Withers has sung his way into the hearts of millions. He has an uncanny ability to say with profound honesty and great sensitivity, what so many of us feel in our hearts, but are unable to express in words.
His music and lyrics have a universal appeal, simple yet sophisticated. Bill attributes this to his own universality-as he describes it, a rural childhood and an urban-international adulthood. Born in West Virginia, the youngest of six children in a small coal-mining town, his youthful musical experiences were mainly in gospel quartets in small churches. During a nine year term in the Navy, which carried him throughout the Far East, Withers was inspired to try his hand at singing. Songwriting came as a result of futile searches for original songs that expressed what he felt.
After his discharge from the Navy, he moved to Los Angeles and recorded demos of his tunes in hopes of landing a recording contract. In 1971, signed to Sussex Records, came such memorable hits as "Ain't No Sunshine," "Grandma's Hands" and in 1972, "Lean One Me" and "Use Me." Later would come the striking "Lovely Day," co-written with Skip Scarborough and "Just The Two Of Us," co-written with Ralph MacDonald and William Salter.
He was awarded Grammy Awards as a 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 third Grammy as a songwriter for the re-recording of the 1972 hit "Lean On Me" by Club Nouveau.
"Lean On Me" has become a staple in churches, children's choirs and even prison choirs. It is often the first song that children learn to play on the piano because of what Bill calls "complex simplicity." Re-recorded and performed at the 1992 Presidential Inauguration festivities by Michael Bolton, it has quietly over the years seemingly become a part of the American fabric.
Bill's songs have been recorded by hundreds of artists including Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson, Liza Minnelli, Aretha Franklin, Tom Jones, Joe Cocker, Johnny Mathis, Mick Jagger, Sting, Crystal Gale, Nancy Wilson, Carmen McCrae, Diana Ross, Grover Washington, Jr., Luther Vandross, Rick Braun and Boney James to name a few.
Artists that have recorded music written by Withers cover genres such as pop, jazz, country and western, classical, rhythm and blues, gospel and hip-hop.
Bill's music and unique voice continue to be used in television and radio commercials, motion pictures and television programs. His music has been sampled and covered by many hip-hop and rap artists of today, such as BlackStreet in the composition "No Diggity," Will Smith's version of "Just The Two Of Us," Black Eyed Peas' "Bridging The Gap" and Twista's "Sunshine" to name a few.
The recent Number 1 Pop and Country album by Jimmy Buffett contains two songs by Withers, "Playin' The Loser Again" and "Simply Complicated," co-written with Jimmy Buffett.
For Bill it was quite simply stated, "I write and sing about whatever I am able to understand and feel. I feel that it is healthier to look out at the world through a window than through a mirror. Otherwise, all you see is yourself and whatever is behind you."
Bill passed away on April 3, 2020 and is survived by his wife Marcia Johnson and their two children, Todd and Kori.
I write and sing about whatever I am able to understand and feel. I feel that it is healthier to look out at the world through a window than through a mirror. Otherwise, all you see is yourself and whatever is behind you.