Legendary 'Lean on Me' Singer Bill Withers Dies at 81

UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01:  Photo of Bill WITHERS; Posed portrait of Bill Withers  (Photo by Gilles Petard/Redferns)

Legendary 'Lean on Me' Singer Bill Withers Dies at 81

In a statement, his family says they are "devastated by the loss of our beloved, devoted husband and father."

Published April 3rd

Written by Madison J. Gray

Bill Withers, the smooth voiced artist behind 70s soul classics including “Lean On Me,” “Lovely Day,” and “Grandma’s Hands” died Monday at age 81, his family said in a statement to the Associated Press.

“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 statement read. 

Withers won songwriting Grammy awards for his hit songs 1971’s “Ain’t No Sunshine,” 1981’s ”Just The Two of Us,” and a re-recording of “Lean On Me,” originally released in 1972, but covered by Club Nouveau in 1987, and featured in the 1989 movie of the same name starring Morgan Freeman. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.

A 1972 trading card of singer/songwriter Bill Withers
A 1972 trading card of singer/songwriter Bill Withers
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

William Harrison Withers was born July 4, 1938 in Slab Fork, West Virginia, the youngest of six children. He was raised by his mother and grandmother after his father died. According to a biography, he joined the U.S. Navy, where he remained for nine years. In 1967, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music. He wrote and recorded demos at night, while working for Boeing Aircraft as a mechanic installing toilets by day. Eventually his voice caught the ear of legendary music mogul Clarence Avant, then president of Sussex Records.

His first album, Just As I Am, featured “Ain’t No Sunshine,” which went gold, “Grandma’s Hands,” and a cover of the Beatles’ classic “Let It Be.” But on his sophomore album, Still Bill, Withers featured the song that became the anthem to friendship for which he will be forever known.

“The song lyrically deals with the two positions that people find themselves in most often,” Withers told American Songwriter in 2006 about composing “Lean On Me.”

“One of the most noble and self-fulfilling things to do in your life is to be able to offer help to somebody ‘cause it does wonders for your ego. It makes you the stronger half of something. The other is people who are in need of help and want to believe that there are people who care enough to give it.”


Withers went on to Columbia Records after a legal falling out with Sussex and when the label went defunct, Columbia purchased his Sussex master recordings. Through the 70s he continued with hits such as “Make Love To Your Mind” off his Making Music LP (1975); Naked and Warm (1976); Menagerie (1977), which featured the rhythm-fueled “Lovely Day”

His vocals were also famously featured on a 1980 Grover Washington Jr.’s hit jazz track that he wrote entitled “Just The Two of Us.” It was included on his 1981 Bill Withers Greatest Hits LP.

Singer/songwriter Bill Withers poses for a portrait session in 1985.
Singer/songwriter Bill Withers poses for a portrait session in 1985.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Withers was married briefly to actress Denise Nicholas of the TV show “Room 222” and the movie “Blacula.” They divorced in 1974.

In 1976 he married Marcia Johnson and had two children with her, a son, Todd and daughter, Kori. The family remained involved in the management of Withers publishing companies. Kori Withers also went on to become a songwriter and performer herself. 

BET sends our condolencsces to the Withers family. 

Photo by Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

COMMENTS

Latest in news