Bill Withers (born July 4, 1938) is an American vocalist and hall-of-fame songwriter
who performed and recorded from 1970 until 1985. Some of his best-known songs are
"Ain't No Sunshine," "Use Me," "Lovely Day," "Lean on Me", "Grandma's Hands", and
"Just the Two of Us".
Bill Withers was born the youngest of nine children in the small coal-mining town of Slab
Fork, West Virginia. Raised in nearby Beckley, West Virginia, he was thirteen when his
father died. He joined the United States Navy at eighteen and served for nine years,
during which time he became interested in singing. He began writing songs to fill a
need for lyrics that expressed what he felt. Following his discharge from the Navy in
1965, he moved to Los Angeles in 1967 to pursue a career in music.
Withers worked as an assembler while recording demo tapes with his own money,
shopping them around and performing in clubs during the night. When he debuted on
the music scene with "Ain't No Sunshine" he refused to give up his job because be
believed the music business was a fickle industry and that he was still a novice
compared to other working acts.
In early 1970, Clarence Avant of Sussex Records signed Withers to a record deal and
assigned Booker T. Jones to produce his debut album. Just As I Am was released in
1971 with the tracks "Harlem" and "Ain't No Sunshine" as singles. The album was a hit
and Withers began touring with a band assembled from members of The Watts 103rd
Street Rhythm Band: drummer James Gadson, guitarist Bernoce Blackmon, keyboardist
Ray Jackson, and bassist Melvin Dunlap. At the 14th annual Grammy Awards in 1972,
Withers won his first Grammy for Best Rhythm and Blues Song for "Ain't No Sunshine.
During a break in touring, Withers recorded his second album, Still Bill. The single
"Lean on Me" went to number one in 1972. A performance that October was recorded
for the live album Bill Withers, Live at Carnegie Hall released in 1972. Withers
recorded the album +'Justments in 1973, then became involved in a legal dispute with
the Sussex label and was unable to record thereafter. During this time, he wrote and
produced two songs on the Gladys Knight & the Pips record I Feel a Song.
Withers signed with Columbia Records in 1975. His first release with the label, Making
Music, Making Friends, included the single "She's Lonely" which was featured in the
film LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR. The next three years saw an album released
each year with Naked & Warm (1976), Menagerie (1977, containing the hit "Lovely
Day") and 'Bout Love (1978).
Due to problems with Columbia, he focused on joint projects between 1977 and 1985,
including the hit, "Just the Two of Us", with jazz saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr.,
which was released in June 1980, and won a Grammy in 1982. Withers next did 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 1985 came Watching
You, Watching Me, which featured the Top 40 R&B single "Oh Yeah". Withers left the
Columbia label after this release.
In 1988, a new version of "Lovely Day" from the 1977 Menagerie album, titled "Lovely
Day (Sunshine Mix)" and remixed by Ben Liebrand, reached the Top 10 in the United
Kingdom, leading to Withers' performance on the long running Top of the Pops that
year. In 1987, he received his ninth Grammy nomination and in March 1988 his third
Grammy for Best Rhythm and Blues Song as songwriter for the re-recording of Lean
On Me by Club Nouveau on their debut album. Withers contributed two songs to
Jimmy Buffett's July 13, 2004 release "License To Chill."
Bill Withers was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005 and into the
inaugural class of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2007. Also, in 2007 his
"Lean On Me" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Currently, a feature
documentary entitled STILL BILL THE MOVIE is being made about Withers. A BlackTree Media Production Thank you for watching! Blacktree is at all the hottest events on the planet (award shows, movie premieres and press junkets, fashion shows, etc.) and now BLACKTREE ON TV brings stars to YOU on Soul of the South! Watch Full episodes below, and tune in!
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