R.I.P. Soul Legend Bill Withers | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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R.I.P. Soul Legend Bill Withers

Dead at 81 From Heart Complications

Apr 03, 2020 Bill Withers Bookmark and Share


Soul legend Bill Withers has died. He was 81 and passed due to heart complications, as the Associated Press reports. He died on Monday, but the news was just announced today. Withers was born on July 4, 1938 in Slab Fork, West Virginia and had a string of hits in the 1970s and 1980s, including “Ain’t No Sunshine” (1971), “Grandma’s Hands” (1971), “Use Me” (1972), “Lean on Me” (1972), “Lovely Day” (1977), and “Just the Two of Us” (1980).

Withers was born with a stutter and entered the Navy at age 17 (four years after his dad died). He served for nine years, eventually getting rid of his stutter and becoming interested in singing. Two years after leaving the Navy, he moved to Los Angels in 1967 to embark on a music career while working as an assembler for Douglas Aircraft Corporation, among other jobs, and recording demo tapes.

Withers released eight studio albums, stretching from 1971’s Just As I Am to 1985’s Watching You Watching Me. Withers was inspired to write “Ain’t No Sunshine” after watching the 1962 movie Days of Wine and Roses, in which Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon both played alcoholics. “Lovely Day” was written by Withers and Skip Scarborough and is notable for a sustained note held by Withers for 18 seconds, one of the longest notes ever in a Top 40 pop song. Both songs have been featured in a multitude of famous movies.

“Just the Two of Us” is technically a Grover Washington Jr. song, but was written by Withers with William Salter and Ralph MacDonald, and recorded by Washington Jr. and Withers (featuring his vocals). Difficulties with Columbia Records led to Withers largely giving up recording after the release of Watching You Watching Me, but in 2015 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Withers was married twice, first briefly to actress Denise Nicholas from 1973 to 1974, and then from 1976 to his death to Marcia Johnson, with whom he had two children, Todd and Kori.

His family issued the following 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.”

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