William Harrison Withers Jr. (born July 4, 1938, died March 30, 2020) was an American former singer-songwriter and musician who performed and recorded from 1970 until 1985. He recorded several major hits, including “Lean on Me”, “Ain’t No Sunshine”, “Use Me”, “Just the Two of Us”, “Lovely Day”, and “Grandma’s Hands”. Withers won three Grammy Awards and was nominated for four more. His life was the subject of the 2009 documentary film Still Bill. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.
Withers, the youngest of six children, was born in the small coal-mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia. He was born with a stutter and has said he had a hard time fitting in. Raised in nearby Beckley, he was 13 years old when his father died. Withers enlisted with the United States Navy at the age of 18 and served for nine years, during which time he overcame his stutter and became interested in singing and writing songs.
He left the Navy in 1965. Using the $250 he received from selling his furniture to IBM co-worker Ron Sierra, he relocated to Los Angeles in 1967 to start a musical career. Withers worked as an assembler for several different companies, including Douglas Aircraft Corporation, while recording demo tapes with his own money, shopping them around and performing in clubs at night. When he debuted with the song “Ain’t No Sunshine”, he refused to resign from his job because he believed the music business was a fickle industry.
Withers married actress Denise Nicholas in 1973, during her stint on the sitcom Room 222. The couple divorced in 1974. In 1976, Withers married Marcia Johnson, and they had two children, Todd and Kori. Marcia eventually assumed the direct management of his Beverly Hills–based publishing companies, in which his children also became involved as they became adults.
Withers died from heart complications on March 30, 2020 his family said in a statement to The Associated Press. He was 81.
We will feature the music of Bill Withers today at 12pm ET