The music world is still mourning the loss of the incomparable Bill Withers. The soul singer passed away March 30 from heart complications at the age of 81. In a statement, the “Ain’t No Sunshine” musician’s family said: “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.”
During his extraordinary life, the West Virginia native penned and performed the classics “Lovely Day,” “Grandma’s Hands,” “Just The Two Of Us,” and “Lean On Me,” with the latter two hits winning Grammy Awards in 1981 and 1987, respectively. He quietly stepped away from the industry in 1985, noting in the 2009 documentary Still Bill that he felt fulfilled as an artist; thoughts he also echoed in a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone (“I’m very pleased with my life how it is. This business came to me in my thirties. I was socialized as a regular guy. I never felt like I owned it or it owned me”).
In an interview with Billboard, Stevie Wonder—who helped to induct Withers into the 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class—notes that he was in talks to work with Withers before his untimely death.
“We’d been texting each other,” Wonder told the publication. “He texted me in January telling me how much he appreciated me being there for him. Then in February, he texted again talking about playing together. And I responded that it would be my pleasure, my joy. Just let me know and I’ll be there. That’s the last message I got from him.”
So, how can we keep Withers’ memory alive? Wonder believes that his spirit will live on through the music and the memories his songs created, suggesting that his work should continue to be covered by other musicians.
“People will be listening to his songs and reading his lyrics like they do with great writers from ages ago, saying he was amazing. And yes, he was,” the “Fingertips” musician adds. “We’ve got to show a lot of love to his wife and children and keep the legacy of what he left behind going ever strong. I think every artist at some point should record one of his songs on their projects. That’s how you keep it going. He deserves that.”