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BILL WITHERS,
1938-2020

Bill Withers, the 1970s singer-songwriter whose soulful mélange of R&B, folk, gospel and pop has captivated and inspired musicians and artists for decades, died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 81.

His family announced his death from heart complications in a statement to The Associated Press.

“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,” the family statement read. “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 “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lovely Day” and “Lean on Me,” all hits at the time of their release, have been covered, sampled and performed often by others for decades.  In the last month, health care workers, choirs and others have posted renditions of “Lean on Me” on social media.

His career was short but significant. He signed, at the relatively advanced age of 33, with Clarence Avant’s Sussex Records in 1971 after a nine-year stint in the Navy as an aircraft mechanic and working at an aircraft parts factory.

His debut, Just As I Am, featured “Grandma’s Hands” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” which was initially released as the B-side to “Harlem.” Radio DJs played the B side and pushed the song to #3; it spent 16 weeks in the top 40. He would win his first of three Grammys for “Ain’t No Sunshine,” which was named Best R&B Song.

A year later, his second album, Still Bill, included the R&B chart-topper “Lean On Me” and the Top 5 pop hit “Use Me.” +’Justments, released in 1974, was his final album for Sussex.

After Sussex went bankrupt, Withers moved to Columbia Records where his lone Top 40 album was 1977’s Menagerie, which included “Lovely Day.” Like the distinct repetition of "I know" in "Ain't No Sunshine," Withers made "Lovely Day" stand out" by holding the word "day" for nearly 20 seconds.  His last album was 1985′s Watching You Watching Me.

Besides love songs, Withers also tackled social issues such as an alcoholic’s suicide in “Better Off Dead” and an injured Vietnam War vet in “I Can’t Write Left-Handed.”

Withers later won Grammys for his duet with saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. on “Just The Two Of Us” in 1981 and in 1987 for writing “Lean on Me,” which had been covered by Club Nouveau. The nine-CD Bill Withers: The Complete Sussex and Columbia Albums, released in 2012, won the Grammy for Best Historical Recording.

“Bill's work has made a lasting impression on the music industry, with countless acclaimed artists performing renditions of his recordings, including Aretha Franklin, Paul McCartney and Barbra Streisand,” said Recording Academy Chair and Interim President/CEO Harvey Mason Jr. “His music will continue to influence the music community and be cherished by the world for years to come. Our hearts go out to his loved ones and all who were impacted by his incomparable work.”  

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005.

 

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