Bill Withers, the beloved singer-songwriter behind a slew of time-tested R&B/soul classics, passed away on Monday away at the age of 81 due to “heart complications,” according to a statement from his family to the Associated Press.
According to the family’s statement, “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. 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.”
As the AP notes, “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.”
Before he retired from the music business in 1985, Withers’ music helped define the ’70s soul-funk sound. His extensive list of hit songs (like “Lean On Me”, “Ain’t No Sunshine”, “Use Me”, “Just The Two Of Us”, “Grandma’s Hands”, “Just The Two of Us”, “When I’m Kissing My Love”, “Who Is He and What Is He To You”, and more) remain popular to this day.
While many of his most popular songs deal with love and relationships, Withers also penned a number of powerful protest songs about the Vietnam War, race relations, and more. Perhaps the most jarring of these is “I Can’t Write Left Handed”, in which Bill sings from the perspective of a soldier whose right arm was blown off in combat.
Bill Withers – “I Can’t Write Left Handed” (Live at Carnegie Hall)
[Video: Bill Withers]
Withers earned three Grammy wins and seven nominations throughout his relatively short career. In 2015, Withers was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Withers is survived by his wife, Marcia, and his children, Todd and Kori.
As we mourn the loss of Bill Withers today, watch a pair of fantastic, in-studio performances from the early 1970s below:
Bill Withers – BBC In-Studio Concert – 1973 [Full Video]
Bill Withers – Beat-Club In-Studio – 1972 [Full Video]
Rest easy, Bill. You will be missed.