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Bill Withers, soul icon behind 'Lean On Me,' dies at 81

Bill Withers, the legendary performer who defined 1970s soul with timeless hits like "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Lean on Me" has died, his family said in a statement.

PTI PTI
New Delhi Published on: April 04, 2020 6:32 IST
Bill Withers, soul icon behind 'Lean On Me,' dies at 81
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Bill Withers, soul icon behind 'Lean On Me,' dies at 81

Bill Withers, the legendary performer who defined 1970s soul with timeless hits like "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Lean on Me" has died, his family said in a statement. He was 81 years old. The Grammy-winning artist succumbed to heart complications, according to his family, which said it was "devastated" over the loss. "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," they said.

"In this difficult time, we pray his music offers comfort and entertainment as fans hold tight to loved ones." The artist's recording career lasted just 14 years -- he released his final album in 1985 -- but his hits that melded gritty southern blues with smooth R&B have endured for decades as global classics, including "Lovely Day" and "Just the Two of Us." The youngest of six, Withers was born on July 4, 1938 during the final years of the Great Depression in Slab Fork, West Virginia, in a segregated coal mining region.

As a child he struggled with a stutter, and in his teenage years enlisted in the US Navy and then worked as an aircraft mechanic.

It wasn't until his mid-30s that Withers began recording music.

"I can't play the guitar or the piano, but I made a career out of writing songs on guitars and piano," the artist told The New York Times in 2015. "I never learned music. I just did it."

Withers moved to Los Angeles in 1967 and self-financed demos, releasing in 1971 his debut studio album "Just As I Am," which was produced by the influential Booker T. Jones.

Its single "Ain't No Sunshine" is now named among Rolling Stone's greatest songs of all time.

But the song that became an indelible smash was released on the B-side -- the artists and repetoire (A&R) promoters at Withers' label didn't think much of it. "The disc jockeys, god bless 'em, turned it over, and that's how I got started," Withers told NPR in 2015.

"I call A&R 'antagonistic & redundant,' and that's why -- because they make those genius decisions like that.

 

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