Bill Withers, an American soul singer with a series of hit singles in the 1970s, recently passed away on March 30, 2020. Despite having instantly recognizable songs, such as “Lean on Me”, “She’s Lonely” and his signature hit, “Ain’t No Sunshine”, Withers went mostly overlooked in the pantheon of popular culture. It is unfortunate that most are beginning to take his legacy seriously in death, but Withers’ career is very much something to hold in high regard.
Withers had humble beginnings. Born on July 4, 1938 in the small town of Slab Fork, West Virginia, Withers had a stutter growing up and admitted it was hard for him to fit. After serving in the United States Navy for nine years, Withers entered into the music business with the hit “Ain’t No Sunshine”. Despite the early success, Withers never refused to rest on his laurels, still maintaining his job as an assembler.
After being well received by Clarence Avant, Withers was signed to Sussex Records where he promptly began recording his debut record. The record, Just As I Am, was released in 1971 with two singles. The album’s artwork was simple and humbly straight to the point, a good way to describe Withers as a whole; it depicted him standing outside of his job. Just As I Am became a huge success and propelled Withers into the limelight. In promotion of the record, Withers went on tour with another band of the 70s. 1972 was a big year for Withers as he won a Grammy Award for “Ain’t No Sunshine” and his record achieved Gold Status in September.
The next three years were consistently successful for Withers as he continued to release successful records, including the widely popular “Lean on Me”. The hit became his second single to be certified Gold. Despite being achieving commercial and critical success, Withers never strayed away from his audience, which was every day middle class working people.
The more success he achieved, he began to notice his record company wanting to have more control over his musical sound. As a result, he began to develop a dislike for the music business entirely, ultimately making the decision to retire in 1985, after only 15 years in the business.
Although Withers made music for just 15 years professionally, he still managed to achieve an exceptional amount of success in such a short time. His string of several widely popular hits still continued to be played throughout the late 80s and 90s and are still classic staples today. Withers’ voice is one that is simply endearing.
Although he is not usually listed among great legendary voices such as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder or David Ruffin, his songs still hold up and are relevant solely because of his ability to pour his feelings into each of his songs. Every time Withers sang, he sang like he meant every word and as if he could see each one of his fans physically.
Bill Withers passed away at the age of 81 on March 30, 2020. Although Withers may not have been one of the household names that comes to mind when we think of classic soul singers, he still left a major impact on the music industry. His passing has brought down the curtain on a very underrated yet wonderful career, but his influence will continue to be felt in his great body of work.