Lean On Me, Lovely Day singer Bill Withers dies at 81

April 04, 2020

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Bill Withers
Bill Withers

Bill Withers, who wrote and sang a string of soulful songs in the 1970s that have stood the test of time, including Lean on Me, Lovely Day and Ain’t No Sunshine, has died from heart complications, his family said in a statement. He was 81.

The three-time Grammy Award winner, who withdrew from making music in the mid-1980s, died on Monday in Los Angeles, the statement said. His death comes as the public has drawn inspiration from his music during the coronavirus pandemic, with health care workers, choirs, artists and more posting their own renditions on Lean on Me to help get through the difficult times.

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.

Withers songs during his brief career have become the soundtracks of countless engagements, weddings and backyard parties. They have powerful melodies and perfect grooves melded with a smooth voice that conveys honesty and complex emotions without vocal acrobatics.

Lean on Me, a paean to friendship, was performed at the inaugurations of both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Ain’t No Sunshine and Lean on Me are among Rolling Stones list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Hes the last African-American Everyman, musician and band leader Questlove told Rolling Stone in 2015. Bill Withers is the closest thing black people have to a Bruce Springsteen.

His death caused a torrent of appreciation on social media, including from former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, who said Withers’ music has been a cherished part of her life. It added to my joy in the good times, and also gave me comfort and inspiration when I needed it most, she tweeted. Singer Jos James said we need his message of unity now more than ever and Billy Dee Williams tweeted your music cheered my heart and soothed my soul. We lost a giant of songwriting today,” ASCAP President and Chairman Paul Williams said in a statement. “Bill Withers songs are among the most treasured and profound in the American songbook universal in the way they touch people all over the world, transcending genre and generation. He was a beautiful man with a stunning sense of humor and a gift for truth.

Withers, who overcame a childhood stutter, was born the last of six children in the coal mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia. After his parents divorced when he was 3, Withers was raised by his mothers family in nearby Beckley.

He joined the Navy at 17 and spent nine years in the service as an aircraft mechanic installing toilets. After his discharge, he moved to Los Angeles, worked at an aircraft parts factory, bought a guitar at a pawn shop and recorded demos of his tunes in hopes of landing a recording contract.

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2020