This one hurts.
Bill Withers, whose soul-stirring catalog provided the soundtrack to generations of black households, has died from heart complications. He was 81.
In a heartfelt statement, his family expressed their grief at his loss.
“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.”
Much like his catalog, Withers’ cultural impact was immense.
Throughout the course of his lifetime, award-winning hits like “Lovely Day,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and “Just the Two of Us” provided comfort to millions, while “Lean on Me” has found renewed life during the coronavirus pandemic, with everyone from recording artists to healthcare workers drawing strength from its inspirational message.
In order to evolve into such an irreplaceable influence on popular culture, Withers had to overcome a debilitating stutter, impoverished childhood and the heartbreaking death of his father when he was 13 years old.
After enlisting in the Navy at 18, his affinity for singing and songwriting grew, though he wouldn’t experience commercial success as a recording artist until the release of “Ain’t No Sunshine” in 1971 at the age of 33.
He would then go on to enjoy a musical career that was equal parts fruitful and incomparable before virtually retiring from the industry in the 1980s—though “Lean On Me” would garner a long-overdue Grammy in 1987.
In 2015, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In response to the news of his passing, fans and peers alike have taken to social media to offer their condolences.
If you haven’t done so already, now is the opportune time to reflect on Withers’ brilliance by watching the 2009 documentary Still Bill.
He is survived by his wife Marcia and their two children, Kori and Todd.