Bill Withers, who wrote and sang a string of soulful songs in the 1970s that have stood the test of time, including “Lean on Me,” “Lovely Day” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” has died from heart complications, his family said in a statement to The Associated Press. He was 81.
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 health care workers, choirs, artists and more posting their own renditions on “Lean on Me” to help get through the difﬁcult times.
“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. “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.”
SOUNDTRACK FOR LIFE
Withers’ songs during his brief career have become the soundtracks of countless engagements, weddings and backyard parties. They have powerful melodies and perfect grooves melded with a smooth voice that conveys honesty and complex emotions without vocal acrobatics.
“Lean on Me,” a paean to friendship, was performed at the inaugurations of both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean on Me” are among Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
His death caused a torrent of appreciation on social media.
Withers, who overcame a childhood stutter, was born the last of six children in the coal mining town of Slab Fork, WVa. After his parents divorced when he was 3, Withers was raised by his mother’s family in nearby Beckley.
“I’m not a virtuoso, but I was able to write songs that people could identify with. I don’t think I’ve done bad for a guy from Slab Fork, West Virginia,” Withers told Rolling Stone in 2015.
He is survived by his wife, Marcia, and children, Todd and Kori.