Born In: Slab Fork, West Virginia, U.S.
Bill Withers was one of the most renowned names in the Rhythm & Blues music genre. In his active career of two decades, he came up with some brilliant compositions and super-hit albums that peaked the charts and became the most popular songs of the decade. Interestingly, Withers started off his career in the United States Navy. It was while serving in the merchant marine that he became musically inclined. Relieved from his duties, he sought to take up music as a career. After much effort, he finally launched himself on a big platform under the Sussex label. His debut album, Just as I Am was a major hit and set the stage for his glorious career. In the next decade and a half, he came up with more hit albums, including, Still Bill, +Justments, Making Music, Making Friends, Naked & Warm, Menagerie, Bout Love, and Watching You Watching Me.
Also Known As: William Harrison Withers Jr.
Died At Age: 81
Spouse/Ex-: Marcia Johnson (m. 1976), Denise Nicholas (m. 1973–1974)
father: William Harrison Withers Sr.
mother: Mattie Rose Withers
children: Kori, Todd
Born Country: United States
place of death: Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Diseases & Disabilities: Stammered / Stuttered
Bill Withers was born William Harrison ‘Bill’ Withers Jr. in the small coal-mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia. He was the youngest of six children and was raised in Beckley, West Virginia.
His father, a coal miner, died when young Wither was just thirteen. Subsequently, he took up a series of menial jobs to support his family.
At the age of eighteen, he conscripted himself into the United States Navy. He rendered his service for about nine years. It was while at the Navy that an interest in singing and songwriting caught up on him.
Relieved from his duties in 1965, he shifted base to Los Angeles in 1967 to pursue a career in music.
He made a humble beginning, working as an assembler for various companies including the Douglas Aircraft Corporation. With the money earned, he recorded demo tapes and performed the songs recorded at various clubs downtown.
He continued working in odd jobs for several years until he finally managed to strike a deal with Sussex Records in 1970. His demonstration tapes were used during the auditions.
He recorded the album in three sessions - with the second and the final session having a break of six months. Finally, in 1971, his debut album, Just as I Am was released with the singles, Ain’t No Sunshine and Grandma’s Hands. The album had Stephen Stills on the guitar.
Just as I Am was a grand success with its singles topping the charts. Post the successful reception of his debut album; he embarked on a tour with an assembled band which included members of The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band.
The single, Ain’t No Sunshine not only sold over one million copies but went on to earn him his first Grammy Award in the category of Best R&B. The single was awarded a platinum disc.
Banking on the success of his first album, he recorded his second album, Still Bill. The single from the album, Learn on Me went on to peak at the number 1 position on the charts, selling more than three million copies, and gaining a gold status.
Subsequently, he released the song, Use Me in October 1972 which became a 3 million seller and was awarded the RIAA gold disc. The same year, he came up with a live album, Bill Withers: Live at Carnegie Hall.
Two years later, he recorded the album, +Justments. However, legal problems prohibited him to record further with Sussex Label. Nevertheless, this did not stop him from recording songs and he wrote and produced two songs on the Gladys Knight & The Pips record.
In the year 1975, he signed a deal with Columbia Records. His first album with the new label was Making Music, Making Friends. The album included the single, She’s Lonely which was featured in the film, Looking for Mr.Goodbar.
Starting in 1976, he came up with an album each year for three years. He started with the album, Naked & Warm in 1976, which was followed by Menagerie in 1977 and Bout Love in 1978. These albums contained the hit tracks, such as Lovely Day and Get on Down. While the former charted its place at the Billboard Top 30, the latter was included in the film Looking for Mr.Goodbar.
His association with Columbia Records wasn’t a smooth one and as such, he did not focus on label records only. In 1980, he collaborated with jazz saxophonist, Grover Washington Jr and came up with the hit track Just the Two of Us. The song was a major hit, topping at number 2 on the Billboard Pop Hit, and made him win his second Grammy Award.
He then joined hands with The Crusaders for the song, Soul Shadows, and with Ralph MacDonald for the track, In the Name of Love. The songs were a major hit with the latter earning him yet another Grammy nomination.
In 1985, he came up with the album, Watching You Watching Me, which included the Top 40-rated R&B single, Oh Yeah. It was his last release under Columbia Records.
After his association with Columbia Records ended in 1988, he released a remixed version of the song, Lovely Day from his 1977 album, Menagerie. The song gained utmost popularity and peaked on the Top 10 Pop charts of the UK. The same year, he won his third Grammy Award in the category of Best R&B song for the track, Lean on Me.
Grandma’s Hands single from his debut album, Just as I Am was partially included in the song, No Diggity by BLACKstreet. The song, featuring Dr. Dre, went on to peak at number 1 on the Billboard 100 chart, selling more than 1.6 million copies. It even won him a Grammy Award in 1999 for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
In 2004, he contributed two songs to Jimmy Buffett’s album, License to Chill. Meanwhile, his earlier albums, such as Still Bill and Just as I Am were reissued in 2003 and 2005 respectively.
Over the course of his musical career, he was six times nominated for Grammy awards in various categories - he won thrice in the category of Best Rhythm & Blues Song for the tracks, Ain’t No Sunshine, Just The Two of Us and Lean on Me.
He won the 1972 NAACP Image Awards in the category of Male Singer of the Year.
In 2002, he became the proud recipient of an honorary doctorate from Mountain State University.
In 2005, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
In 2006, he won the ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Heritage award.
In 2007, he was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. The same year, his song, Lean on Me was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
In 1973, he married actress Denise Nicholas. However, the union did not work out and the two separated the following year.
Later in 1976, he married Marcia Johnson. The couple had two children - Todd and Kori.
Bill Withers died on March 30, 2020, from heart complications. He was 81.
The composition Lean On Me by this American singer-songwriter was adopted as a hymn by the Unitarian-Universalist Association and appeared in their supplemental hymnal Singing the Journey.
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