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Bill Withers

Bill Withers American singer-songwriter and musician

American singer-songwriter and musician
Bill Withers
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American singer-songwriter and musician
A.K.A. William Harrison Withers, Jr.
Was Singer Songwriter Musician Composer
From United States of America
Type Music
Gender male
Birth 4 July 1938, Slab Fork, USA
Death 30 March 2020, Los Angeles, USA (aged 81 years)
Star sign CancerCancer
Spouse: Denise Nicholas
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2015
Pop music
Soul music
Rhythm and blues
The details


William Harrison Withers Jr. (July 4, 1938 – March 30, 2020) was an American singer-songwriter and musician who performed and recorded from 1970 until 1985. He recorded several major hits, 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 won three Grammy Awards and was nominated for four more. His life was the subject of the 2009 documentary film Still Bill. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.

Early life

Withers, the youngest of six children, was born in the small coal-mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia on July 4, 1938. He was born with a stutter and later said he had a hard time fitting in. Raised in nearby Beckley, he was 13 years old when his father died. Withers enlisted in the United States Navy at the age of 17, and served for nine years, during which time he became interested in singing and writing songs.

He left the Navy in 1965, and relocated to Los Angeles in 1967 to start a music career. Withers worked as an assembler for several different companies, including Douglas Aircraft Corporation, while recording demo tapes with his own money, shopping them around and performing in clubs at night. When he debuted with the song "Ain't No Sunshine", he refused to resign from his job because he believed the music business was a fickle industry.


Sussex records

During early 1970, Withers's demonstration tape was auditioned favorably by Clarence Avant, owner of Sussex Records. Avant signed Withers to a record deal and assigned former Stax Records stalwart Booker T. Jones to produce Withers' first album. Four three-hour recording sessions were planned for the album, but funding caused the album to be recorded in three sessions with a six-month break between the second and final sessions. Just as I Am was released in 1971 with the tracks, "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Grandma's Hands" as singles. The album features Stephen Stills playing lead guitar. On the cover of the album, Withers is pictured at his job at Weber Aircraft in Burbank, California, holding his lunch box.

The album was a success, and Withers began touring with a band assembled from members of the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. Withers won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song for "Ain't No Sunshine" at the 14th Annual Grammy Awards in 1972. The track had already sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA in September 1971.

During a hiatus from touring, Withers recorded his second album, Still Bill. The single, "Lean on Me" went to number one the week of July 8, 1972. It was Withers’s second gold single with confirmed sales in excess of three million. His follow-up, "Use Me" released in August 1972, became his third million seller, with the R.I.A.A. gold disc award taking place on October 12, 1972. His performance at Carnegie Hall on October 6, 1972, was recorded, and released as the live album Bill Withers, Live at Carnegie Hall on November 30, 1972. In 1974, Withers recorded the album +'Justments. Due to a legal dispute with the Sussex company, Withers was unable to record for some time thereafter.

"Withers sang for a black nouveau middle class that didn't yet understand how precarious its status was. Warm, raunchy, secular, common, he never strove for Ashford & Simpson-style sophistication, which hardly rendered him immune to the temptations of sudden wealth—cross-class attraction is what gives 'Use Me' its kick. He didn't accept that there had to be winners and losers, that fellowship was a luxury the newly successful couldn't afford. Soon sudden wealth took its toll on him while economic clampdown took its toll on his social context."

Robert Christgau

During this time, he wrote and produced two songs on the Gladys Knight & the Pips record I Feel a Song, and in October 1974 performed in concert together with James Brown, Etta James, and B.B. King in Zaire four weeks prior to the historic Rumble in the Jungle fight between Foreman and Ali. Footage of his performance was included in the 1996 documentary film When We Were Kings, and he is heard on the accompanying soundtrack. Other footage of his performance is included in the 2008 documentary film Soul Power, which is based on archival footage of the 1974 Zaire concert.

Columbia Records

After Sussex Records folded, Withers signed with Columbia Records in 1975. His first album release with the label, Making Music, included the single "She's Lonely", which was featured in the film Looking for Mr. Goodbar along with "She Wants to (Get on Down)". During the next three years he released an album each year with Naked & Warm (1976), Menagerie (1977; containing the successful "Lovely Day"), and 'Bout Love (1978).

Due to problems with Columbia and being unable to get songs approved for his album, he concentrated on joint projects from 1977 to 1985, including "Just the Two of Us", with jazz saxophonist Grover Washington Jr., which was released during June 1980. The song won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Song. Withers next released "Soul Shadows" with the Crusaders, and "In the Name of Love" with Ralph MacDonald, the latter being nominated for a Grammy for vocal performance.

In 1982, Withers was a featured vocalist on the album, "Dreams in Stone" by French singer Michel Berger. This record included one composition co-written and sung by Withers, an upbeat disco song about New York City entitled "Apple Pie".

In 1985 came Watching You Watching Me, which featured the Top 40-rated R&B single "Oh Yeah", and ended Withers’s business association with Columbia Records. Withers stated in interviews that a lot of the songs approved for the album, in particular, two of the first three singles released, were the same songs which were rejected in 1982, hence contributing significantly to the eight-year hiatus between albums. Withers also stated it was frustrating seeing his record label release an album for Mr. T, an actor, when they were preventing him, an actual singer, from releasing his own. He toured with Jennifer Holliday in 1985 to promote what would be his final studio album.

His disdain for Columbia's A&R executives or "blaxperts", as he termed them, trying to exert control over how he should sound if he wanted to sell more albums, played a part in his decision to not record or re-sign to a record label after 1985, effectively ending his performing career, even though remixes of his previously recorded music were released well after his 'retirement'. Finding musical success later in life than most, at 32, he has said he was socialized as a 'regular guy' who had a life before the music, so he did not feel an inherent need to keep recording once he fell out of love with the industry. After he left the music industry he said that he did not miss touring and performing live and did not regret leaving music behind.

Post-Columbia career

In 1988, a new version of "Lovely Day" from the 1977 Menagerie album, entitled "Lovely Day (Sunshine Mix)" and remixed by Ben Liebrand. The original release had reached #7 in the UK in early 1978, and the re-release climbed higher to #4.

At the 30th Annual Grammy Awards in 1988, Withers won the Grammy for Best Rhythm and Blues Song as songwriter for the re-recording of "Lean on Me" by Club Nouveau. This was Withers' third Grammy and ninth nomination. Withers contributed two songs to Jimmy Buffett's 2004 release License to Chill. Following the reissues of Still Bill on January 28, 2003, and Just As I Am on March 8, 2005, there was speculation of previously unreleased material being issued as a new album. In 2006, Sony gave back to Withers his previously unreleased tapes. In 2007, "Lean on Me" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

At the 56th Annual Grammy Awards in 2014, Bill Withers: The Complete Sussex & Columbia Albums Collection, a nine-disc set featuring Withers's eight studio albums, as well as his live album Live at Carnegie Hall, received the Grammy Award for Best Historical Album (sharing the award with The Rolling Stones' "Charlie Is My Darling - Ireland 1965.") The award was presented to Leo Sacks, who produced the collection, and the mastering engineers Mark Wilder, Joseph M. Palmaccio and Tom Ruff.

In 2005, Withers was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In April 2015, Withers was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Stevie Wonder. He described the honor as "an award of attrition" and said: "What few songs I wrote during my brief career, there ain't a genre that somebody didn't record them in. 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." Later that year, a tribute concert in his honor was held at Carnegie Hall, featuring Aloe Blacc, Ed Sheeran, Dr. John, Michael McDonald and Anthony Hamilton recreating his 1973 concert album, Live at Carnegie Hall, along with other Withers material. Withers was in attendance and spoke briefly onstage.

In February 2017, he made an appearance on MSNBC on Joy Reid's show to talk about the refugee crisis, as well as the political climate in America.

Personal life

Withers married actress Denise Nicholas in 1973, during her stint on the sitcom Room 222. The couple made headlines following reports of domestic violence. They divorced in 1974.

In 1976, Withers married Marcia Johnson, and they had two children, Todd and Kori. Marcia eventually assumed the direct management of his Beverly Hills–based publishing companies, in which his children also became involved as they became adults.

Withers died in Los Angeles on March 30, 2020, from heart complications. His family announced his death on April 3, 2020 saying they were "devastated by the loss of our beloved, devoted husband and father".


Studio albums

Year Album Peak chart positions Certifications
Record label
1971 Just as I Am 35 9 37 Sussex
1972 Still Bill 4 1 71
  • RIAA: Gold
1974 +'Justments 67 7
1975 Making Music 81 7 Columbia
1976 Naked & Warm 169 41
1977 Menagerie 39 16 55 27
  • RIAA: Gold
1978 'Bout Love 134 50
1985 Watching You Watching Me 143 42 60

Live albums

Year Album Peak chart positions Record label
1973 Live at Carnegie Hall 63 6 Sussex

Compilation albums

Year Album Peak chart positions Certifications
Record label
1975 The Best of Bill Withers 182 33 Sussex
1980 The Best of Bill Withers Columbia
1981 Bill Withers' Greatest Hits 183 58 90
  • RIAA: Gold
  • BPI: Gold
1994 Lean on Me: The Best of Bill Withers 131 Legacy
2000 The Best of Bill Withers: Lean on Me
2000 The Ultimate Bill Withers Collection (2CD) Sony Music
2005 Lovely Day: The Very Best of Bill Withers 35
  • BPI: Silver
2008 Ain't No Sunshine: The Best of Bill Withers Music Club Deluxe
2009 Playlist: The Very Best of Bill Withers Sussex/Columbia/Legacy
2013 The Essential Bill Withers Columbia/Legacy


Year Single (A-side, B-side)
Peak chart positions Certifications
1967 "Three Night and A Morning"
Non-album tracks
1971 "Harlem"
Just As I Am
"Ain't No Sunshine"
3 6 2 17 9 40
  • US: Gold
"Grandma's Hands"
42 18 16 37
1972 "Lean On Me"
1 1 4 12 20 18
  • US: Gold
Still Bill
"Use Me"
2 2 14 33
  • US: Gold
"Let Us Love"
47 17 33 75 Non-album tracks
1973 "Kissing My Love"
31 12 65 Still Bill
"Friend Of Mine"
80 25 Bill Withers Live At Carnegie Hall
1974 "The Same Love That Made Me Laugh"
50 10 39 +'Justments
"Heartbreak Road"
89 13
1975 "It's All Over Now"
68 Non-album track
Just As I Am
"Make Love To Your Mind"
76 10 Making Music
1976 "I Wish You Well"
"Hello Like Before"
"If I Didn't Mean You Well"
74 Naked & Warm
1977 "Close To Me"
"Lovely Day"
30 6 25 23 7 Menagerie
1978 "Lovely Night For Dancing"
1979 "Don't It Make It Better"
30 'Bout Love
"You Got The Stuff" -- Part 1
1981 "Just the Two of Us"
2 3 2 31 10 34 Bill Withers' Greatest Hits
"I Want To Spend The Night"
83 Non-album track
1984 "In The Name Of Love"
58 13 6 95 Non-album track
1985 "Oh Yeah!"
106 22 40 60 Watching You Watching Me
"Something That Turns You On"
"We Could Be Sweet Lovers"
1987 "Lovely Day"
92 Menagerie
1988 "Lovely Day"
4 Lovely Days
"Ain't No Sunshine"
1990 "Harlem"

Other appearances

Year Song Album
1982 "Apple Pie" Dreams in Stone
2011 "Use Me" The Best of Soul Train Live
  • The original version of "Ain't No Sunshine" did not chart on the UK Singles Chart until 2009, 38 years after its release.


Grammy Awards

The Grammy Awards are bestowed by the The Recording Academy. Withers has won three Grammys from nine nominations.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
1971 "Ain't No Sunshine" Best Rhythm & Blues Song Won
Bill Withers Grammy Award for Best New Artist Nominated
"Ain't No Sunshine" Best Pop Vocal Performance Male Nominated
1981 "Just the Two of Us" Best Rhythm & Blues Song Won
"Just the Two of Us" Grammy Award for Song of the Year Nominated
"Just the Two of Us" Grammy Award for Record of the Year Nominated
"Just the Two of Us" Best Pop Vocal Performance Male Nominated
1984 "In the Name of Love (feat. Ralph MacDonald)" Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance Nominated
1987 "Lean on Me" Best Rhythm & Blues Song Won


  • 1972: NAACP Image Awards: Male Singer of the Year
  • 2002: Honorary doctorate from Mountain State University
  • 2005: Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee
  • 2006: ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Heritage award
  • 2007: Inducted into West Virginia Music Hall of Fame
  • 2015: Inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
  • 2017: Honorary degree from West Virginia University.
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 03 Apr 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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