Decades after the peak of his career, his songs are still widely remembered and sung along to.
"His music forever belongs to the world."
Leaving behind an influential legacy and songs that are so timeless, Bill Withers passed away at the age of 81 due to heart complications on March 30, 2020.
His baritone vocals gave the world some of the biggest hits in the 70s and were sung by a whole generation as well as the ones that followed. Even today, about 50 years after the peak of his career, people are still moved by the American soul singer who poured his heart and soul into songs like Ain’t No Sunshine, Lovely Day, Lean on Me, and Use Me.
"We are devastated by the loss of our beloved, devoted husband and father," said the family's statement to The Associated Press. "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."
What people find hard to believe is that Withers, born in 1938 as William Harrison Withers Jr had a stutter and it stopped him from making friends as a child, The Guardian reports. Growing up in Slab Fork, West Virginia gave him a difficult childhood as he lost his father at the age of 13. Before his music career took off, he spent nine years in the navy. The youngest of six siblings, the soul singer taught himself how to play the guitar in whatever spare time he had during his job of making toilet seats for the aircraft company, Boeing, according to BBC. Using the wages he earned, he paid for his studio sessions in Los Angeles. His grandmother had a huge impact on his life and helped raise him. And in her honor, Withers wrote Grandma’s Hands as a tribute to her and it was part of his album titled Just As I Am.
The influence that church hymns and gospel music had on him could be seen through in his admired style. His first well-deserved Grammy Award was for Ain't No Sunshine, which has sort of become the unofficial breakup anthem for the country. The ballad was also from the Just As I Am album.
Lean on Me soon came out in 1972 and became another million-selling number. The hit was even performed at the presidential inaugurations of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, as reported by The Guardian.
The news of the three-time Grammy Award winner's death comes at a time when people were turning to his music for comfort during the ongoing pandemic. Artists, choirs, care workers, and even people standing at their apartment windows, sang their own renditions of Lean on Me. The song truly resonates with everyone during this distressing time and people are drawing comfort from the lyrics and the soothing music. After all, as Withers reminded us, "We all need somebody to lean on."
One of the things that helped Withers connect with so many people was his ability to look at the world beyond his own perspective. "I write and sing about whatever I am able to understand and feel," Withers said, as quoted by the official Bill Withers website. "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."
With the passing of Withers, a number of heartfelt tributes have been pouring in from across the country. Actor and rock star, Lenny Kravitz said, "Your voice, songs, and total expression gave us love, hope, and strength. My soul always has & always will be full of your music."
Rest in power Bill Withers. Your voice, your songs, and your total expression gave us love, hope, and strength. My soul always has and always will be full of your music. pic.twitter.com/TLXtUisuQI— Lenny Kravitz (@LennyKravitz) April 4, 2020
Singer John Legend also shared his grief over the loss of the singer.
Mourning the loss of my friend and inspiration, Bill Withers. He was such an incredible songwriter and storyteller. I'm so glad he shared his gift with the world. Life wouldn't be the same without him.— John Legend (@johnlegend) April 3, 2020
"What an incredible talent and genuine soul. He will be missed by so many," said singer, Kid Rock.
RIP Bill Withers— Kid Rock (@KidRock) April 3, 2020
One of my favorites of all time. His “Live at Carnegie Hall” record has been at the top of my list for decades. What an incredible talent and genuine soul. He will be missed by so many. -Kid Rockhttps://t.co/uYvEQS5ZhJ pic.twitter.com/qvPvwohEMM
Musician Brian Wilson also called it a "real loss."
I’m very sad to hear about Bill Withers passing. Bill was a “songwriter’s songwriter” and wrote so many great songs like “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean On Me.” A real loss. Love & Mercy to Bill’s family. – Brian pic.twitter.com/dUGAre6Bjt— Brian Wilson (@BrianWilsonLive) April 3, 2020
"Has anyone ever sang popular music better? Take a bath in that voice," said musician Flea. "He touched my heart every time. He had no interest in fame-game and power, so he stepped away from the music business as a young man, after he got what he needed, and enjoyed his life."
Rest in peace, Bill Withers! There ain't no sunshine without you.