With timeless classics that still rule the airwaves, which have been covered by everyone from Micheal Jackson, to Club Nouveau, to Barbra Streisand, to Paul McCartney, to Aretha Franklin, William Harrison “Bill” Withers Jr. has cemented his place in music history. He departed this life on March 30, 2020 from heart complications. He was 81. The youngest of six children, Withers was born in Slab Fork, West Virginia and enlisted into the Navy at the tender age of 17.
Arriving in Los Angeles in 1967, His demos, produced by Ray Jackson, led to an introduction to Forrest Hamilton, who introduced Withers to Clarence Avant of Sussex Records. Soonafter, history was made. Once Avant asked Booker T. Jones to produce Withers’ debut album, The ending result was the groundbreaking Just As Iam, which featured the endearing “Grandma’s Hands” and the Grammy-winning “Ain’t No Sunshine”. On the heels of two major hits, Withers soon began the first of many international tours. Little did he know, his star would soon rise even higher.
His second album, Still Bill, catapulted Withers to heights that he never knew existed, with the popular sing-a-long “Use Me” and the timeless, spirit lifter, “Lean On Me”, for which Withers won his third Grammy. After the release of 1974’s + Justments, Withers signed with Columbia Records for 1975’s Making Music, 1976’s Naked & Warm, 1977’s Menagerie, which featured the ever so popular feel good single, “Lovely Day” and 1979’s Bout Love, which featured the chart topping, “Don’t It Make It Better”. The hits didn’t stop there. 1980 saw the birth of “Just the Two of Us” a duet with Grover Washington Jr., which was not only another radio staple, but a was a career pinnacle, garnering four Grammy nominations, and a win for Withers for Best R&B Song. After becoming frustrated with the music industry, Withers decided to take a break after releasing Watching You, Watching Me, his final album for Columbia, which featured the single, “Oh Yeah.”
The hip hop community has also been influenced by Withers with his classics being samples by many hip hop heavyweights including Jay-Z, 2pac, Kayne West, Akon and DMX. His timeless classics can still be heard in a plethora of motion pictures and television shows including Girls Trip, American Beauty, The Secret Life of Pets, Scandal, CSI, Snowfall, and The Simpsons.
In addition to his three Grammys, Withers has won a host of other prestigious awards including an induction into the 2005 Songwriters Hall of Fame and a 2015 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Paving the way for many, Withers will always remain one of music’s most cherished souls. He will be sincerely missed.
Ashly E. Smith is an author, poet, columnist, and freelance writer from Baltimore, Maryland. With her strong pop culture and entertainment backgrounds, Ashly strives to create articles that inspire as well as entertain.