Sad news today, as the influential soul singer Bill Withers has passed away at the age of 81 due to heart complications. He died on Monday in Los Angeles according to his family who also provided a statement.
"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. 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."
During his career, Bill Withers gave us some of the most beloved and recognizable songs in the American songbook. To name but a few, Withers was the man behind such hits as Lean on Me, Ain't No Sunshine, Lovely Day, Use Me and Just the Two of Us.
Over the years Ain't No Sunshine has become regarded as one of the all-time great breakup songs, while the inspirational Lean on Me has gone on to be considered the ultimate musical tribute to the supportive power of friendship, with the song being performed at the inaugurations of presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. It remains his first and only No 1 single on the US Billboard pop charts, back in 1972.
Born William Harrison Withers Jr in 1938, the singer-songwriter faced a difficult childhood. Growing up in Slab Fork, West Virginia, Withers suffered from a stutter which held him back from making friends. Following the death of his father when Withers was just 13, he was raised by his grandmother, going on to honor her in the song Grandma's Hands from his 1971 debut album Just As I Am.
Having spent nine years in the US Navy, Withers moved to Los Angeles in 1967 to pursue a career in music. He found a job making toilet seats, recording music demos through the night, before being signed by Sussex Records and recording the album [Just As I Am}. That album spawned the hit Ain't No Sunshine, which won Withers his first Grammy for best R&B song.
After a turbulent time at Sussex Records, Withers signed with Columbia Records and continued having hit records, including the upbeat ode to positivity, Lovely Day. The song was his only UK Top 10 hit, reaching number 7 in 1977 and number 4 in 1988. During this time Withers also won three Grammy awards from nine nominations. Whilst at Columbia Records Withers released three albums in three years, which was followed by a gap of seven years between the albums 'Bout Love (1978) and Watching You Watching Me (1985). After the latter album failed to chart, Withers decided to go into early retirement.
This decision is explored in the 2009 documentary Still Bill, which looks at the reasons why Withers quit the music industry and hid from the public eye, and paints a picture of a fulfilled musician and human being. In his review, renowned film critic Roger Ebert said "[Withers] still lives and survives as a happy man. Still Bill is about a man who topped the charts, walked away from it all in 1985 and is pleased that he did."