Bill Withers, singer of classics Ain’t No Sunshine and Lean on Me, dies at 81
Bill Withers, writer and singer of classics such as Lean on Me and Ain’t No Sunshine, has died of heart complications, his family has said. He was 81.
“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 said in a statement to AP. “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.”
The three-time Grammy Award winner, who withdrew from making music in the mid-1980s, died on Monday in Los Angeles, the statement said. His death comes as the public has drawn inspiration from his music during the coronavirus pandemic, with healthcare workers, choirs, artists and more posting their own renditions on Lean on Me to help get through the difficult times.
Withers, who overcame a childhood stutter, was born the last of six children in the coal mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia. After his parents divorced when he was 3, Withers was raised by his mother’s family in nearby Beckley.
He joined the Navy at 17 and spent nine years in the service as an aircraft mechanic installing toilets. After his discharge, he moved to Los Angeles, worked at an aircraft parts factory, bought a guitar at a pawn shop and recorded demos of his tunes in hopes of landing a recording contract.
His death caused a torrent of appreciation for his contribution to music on social media, including from former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, who said Withers' music has been a cherished part of her life. “It added to my joy in the good times, and also gave me comfort and inspiration when I needed it most,” she tweeted. Singer José James said “we need his message of unity now more than ever” and Billy Dee Williams tweeted “your music cheered my heart and soothed my soul.”
“Legend,” wrote culture commentator Franklin Leonard. “Rest In Peace, maestro Bill Withers,” Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote on Twitter. “What a legacy.” Producer Mark Ronson called him “One of the greatest vocalists and songwriters ever.”
“Aw man, Bill Withers was really the greatest,” wrote Chance the Rapper on Twitter. “Class, class and more class,” wrote Nile Rogers.
(With AP inputs)
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