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Bill Withers, Whose Soul Standards Defined Heartbreak and Strength, Has Died

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Bill Withers, Whose Soul Standards Defined Heartbreak and Strength, Has Died

The legendary songwriter who penned “Lean on Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine” died this week at the age of 81.

Bill Withers, the singer who penned giant ’70s soul hits including “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean on Me,” has died at the age of 81, according to the Associated Press. His family announced his death on Friday, noting that the singer passed from heart complications on Monday.

“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 said in a statement. “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 made his breakthrough in 1971 (when he was in his 30s and working on a factory line) with “Ain’t No Sunshine,” which has since become an American soul staple. The song, off his debut album Just As I Am, was a commercial hit and launched a career that eventually landed him three Grammys, six more nominations, and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. He also wrote and produced songs for other artists, including Gladys Knight and the Pips.

Though his career was brief, Withers is responsible for writing a number of timeless classics including “Lean on Me.” The song has become an American standard, an ode to strength and friendship and community, that has been performed at the inaugurations of two presidents.

Despite his massive contributions to American music, Withers’s only actively produced music for a little over a decade before retreating to private life.

“I really don’t have the personality to do this all the time,” he said after being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015. “I’m not that outgoing. I’m rather shy—I’d rather hide. I never danced. I hid behind the guitar. So it’s all life, you know, as long as you’re doing something.”

Withers released eight albums before backing away from the spotlight in 1985, and since then, classics like “Lean on Me,” “Grandma’s Hands,” “Use Me,” “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lovely Day” have become essential and ubiquitous throughout the world.

“What few songs I wrote during my brief career, there ain’t a genre that somebody didn’t record them in,” he told Rolling Stone in 2014. “I’m not a virtuoso, but I was able to write songs that people could identify with. I don’t think I’ve done bad for a guy from Slab Fork, West Virginia.”


Source: Esquire US