Bill Withers (1938 – 2020) Singer, Songwriter & Guitarist

“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,” poetic words spoken by the legendary icon Bill Withers, who wrote and sang a host of soulful songs in the 1970’s that have stood the test of time, including “Lean On Me” “Lovely Day” and “Ain’t No Sunshine.” His songs are often used on the big screen and covered by multiple artists ranging from Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Mick Jagger, Dianna Ross, to Barbara Streisand and many others. The three-time Grammy Award winner, who withdrew from making music in 1985, wrote some of the most memorable and extraordinary songs of our lifetime.

Born on July 4, 1938, in the small town of Slab Fork, West Virginia, Bill was the youngest of six children. He was raised in nearby Beckley, in coal mining country where his father, William Withers was a miner and his mother Mattie (Galloway) Withers was a maid. His father died when Bill was only 13 years old.  

After graduating from high school, Bill enlisted in the U.S, Navy. He saw it as his ticket out of coal mining and the Jim Crow South where he experienced racism at an early age. He served for nine years in the Navy, during which time he became interested in singing and writing songs.

In 1967, he moved to Los Angeles and self-financed his demos while working as an assembler for several different companies, including Douglas Aircraft Corporation, IBM and Ford. He went around performing in clubs at night. He refused to resign from his job because he believed the music business was a fickle industry. Ironically, he was laid off from his factory job a few months before “Just as I Am” came out. After the album’s release, he recalled, he received two letters on the same day. One was from his workplace asking him to return to work. The other was from “The Tonight Show,” where he appeared in November 1971. “Ain’t No Sunshine” became a major hit off that album unexpectedly.

After leaving the Sussex label and joining Columbia Records, Bill often found himself clashing with label executives who called him difficult due to creative differences. Bill felt they were trying to change him into someone he was not. In 1985, after the release of “Watching You Watching Me” he was done with the music business. It was much later when he performed at the inaugurations of both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

On March 30, 2020, he died from heart complications in Los Angeles, at age 81.

NOTABLE WORKS:

  • Ain’t No Sunshine (1971, song)
  • Grandma’s Hands (1971, song)
  • Just as I Am (1971, album)
  • Use Me (1972, song)
  • Lean on Me (1972, song)
  • Still Bill (1972, album)
  • +Justments (1974, album)
  • Making Music (1975, album)
  • Naked & Warm (1976, album)
  • Lovely Day (1977. song)
  • Menagerie (1977, album)
  • Bout Love (1978, album)
  • Just the Two of Us (1981, song)
  • Watching You Watching Me (1985, album)

AWARDS & HONORS:

  • Three Grammy Awards
  • Rock In Roll Hall of Fame
  • Grammy Hall of Fame
  • ASCAP Rhythm & Soul – Heritage Award
  • Songwriters Hall of Fame
  • West Virginia Music Hall of Fame
  • Rhythm & Blues Foundation – Pioneer Award
  • Honorary Doctorate, West Virginia University
  • Middleburg
  • Rock In Roll Hall of Fame
  • Grammy Hall of Fame
  • ASCAP Rhythm & Soul – Heritage Award
  • Songwriters Hall of Fame
  • West Virginia Music Hall of Fame
  • Rhythm & Blues Foundation – Pioneer Award
  • Two  NAACP Image Awards
  • Honorary Doctorate, West Virginia University
  • Honorary Doctorate, Middleburg College

QUOTES:

  • I write and sing about whatever I am able to understand and feel.
  • And, I’ll paint your pretty picture with a song. 
  • 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.
  • When you have a talent you know it when you’re five years old– it’s just getting around to it.

SOURCES:

RECREATE CREDITS:

Recreate Model: Jermaine Monroe aka MainMan

Recreate Photographer: Jasmine Y. Mallory

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