One of the most well-known musicians in the Rhythm & Blues subgenre is Bill Withers. In the course of his two-decade active career, he created some amazing compositions and super successful albums that not only reached the top of the charts but also included some of the most well-known songs of the time. It’s interesting to note that Withers began his career in the US Navy. He developed an interest in music while serving in the merchant navy. Relieved of his obligations, he sought to pursue music as a profession. He ultimately made his debut on a significant platform under the Sussex label after much effort. His successful debut album, “Just as I Am,” served as the foundation for his illustrious career. He produced seven more number-one albums over the course of the following 15 years, including “Still Bill,” “+Justments,” “Making Music,” “Making Friends,” “Naked & Warm,” “Menagerie,” “Bout Love,” and “Watching You Watching Me.”
Early Childhood & Life
Bill Withers was born William Harrison “Bill” Withers Jr. in the West Virginia coal mining community of Slab Fork. He was raised in Beckley, West Virginia, and was the youngest of the family’s six kids.
When Wither was only thirteen years old, his coal miner father passed away. He then started working a variety of low-paying jobs to support his family.
He enlisted in the American Navy at the age of eighteen. For around nine years, he provided his services. His interest in singing and songwriting began to grow when he was in the Navy.
He was released from his obligations in 1965, and in 1967 he relocated to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music.
Bill Withers’s Career
He started out on the assembly line for several businesses, including the Douglas Aircraft Corporation. He recorded demo recordings and played the songs at several venues in the city using the money he had made.
He continued doing odd jobs for several years before he at last succeeded in signing a contract with Sussex Records in 1970. At the auditions, his demonstration tapes were played.
He completed the album’s recording over the course of three sessions, with a six-month interval between the second and third sessions. Finally, his debut album, “Just as I Am,” with the hits “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Grandma’s Hands,” was released in 1971. Stephen Stills played guitar on the record.
The tracks from “Just as I Am” topped the charts, making the album a huge success. After his debut record was well received, he went on tour with a group that comprised musicians from The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band.
In addition to selling over a million copies, the track “Ain’t No Sunshine” also helped him win his first Grammy Award for Best R&B. Platinum disc was given to the song.
He created his second album, “Still Bill,” relying on the success of his debut. The album’s lead single, “Learn on Me,” peaked at the top of the charts, selling more than three million copies and earning gold status.
In October 1972, he then released the song “Use Me,” which sold 3 million copies and earned the RIAA gold disc. Bill Withers: Live at Carnegie Hall, an album of live performances, was released the same year.
He recorded the album “+Justments” two years later. However, he was unable to continue recording with the Sussex label due to legal issues. Despite this, he continued to record music and contributed two songs to the Gladys Knight & The Pips album.
He entered into a contract with Columbia Records in the year 1975. He released the CD “Making Music, Making Friends” as his debut with the new label. The single “She’s Lonely,” which appeared in the movie “Looking for Mr. Goodbar,” was included on the album.
He released an album beginning in 1976 and continued for three years. His first album, “Naked & Warm,” was released in 1976. This was followed by “Menagerie” in 1977 and “Bout Love” in 1978. These CDs included popular songs like “Lovely Day” and “Get on Down.” While the latter was included in the movie “Looking for Mr. Goodbar,” the former was charted at the Billboard Top 30.
He had a rocky relationship with Columbia Records, so he didn’t just concentrate on records from the label. He worked along with jazz saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. in 1980 to create the popular song “Just the Two of Us.” His second Grammy award was given to him for the song, which peaked at number two on the Billboard Pop hit chart.
After that, he collaborated with “The Crusaders” on “Soul Shadows” and with Ralph MacDonald on “In the Name of Love.” The latter earned him yet another Grammy nomination, and both songs were huge hits.
He released the album “Watching You Watching Me” in 1985, which had the Top 40 R&B smash “Oh Yeah.” His final release through Columbia Records was that one.
He created a remixed version of the song “Lovely Day” from his 1977 album “Menagerie” after his relationship with Columbia Records came to an end in 1988. The song became extremely popular and landed on the UK’s Top 10 Pop charts. He received his third Grammy that year for the song “Lean on Me” in the category of Best R&B song.
Blackstreet’s song “No Diggity” contains a portion of the hit “Grandma’s Hands” from his debut album “Just as I Am.” The song, which also features Dr. Dre, sold more than 1.6 million copies and peaked at number one on the Billboard 100 chart. Even a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals was given to him for it in 1999.
He provided two songs in 2004 for Jimmy Buffett’s CD “License to Chill.” Still, Bill and Just as I Am, two of his previous recordings, were released in 2003 and 2005, respectively.
Recognition & Achievements
Throughout the course of his musical career, he had six Grammy nominations in various categories, winning three of them for the songs “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Just the Two of Us,” and “Lean on Me.”
He earned the Male Singer of the Year award at the 1972 NAACP Image Awards.
He was honored to receive an honorary doctorate from Mountain State University in 2002.
He was admitted to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005.
He received the ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Heritage award in 2006.
He was admitted to the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2007. The Grammy Hall of Fame inducted his song “Lean on Me” the same year.
Personal Legacy & Life
He got married to the actress Denise Nicholas in 1973. She gained notoriety at that time for her part in the sitcom “Room 222.” But the partnership did not last, and the two broke apart the next year.
He married Marcia Johnson later in 1976. Todd and Kori, the couple’s two children, were a blessing.
Estimated Net Worth
At the time of his passing in 2020, American singer-songwriter Bill Withers had a $40 million net worth. On March 30, 2020, Bill Withers passed away from heart issues at the age of 81. He penned and performed a lot of hugely successful songs throughout his career. “Lovely Day,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me,” and “Just the Two of Us” are among his best-known songs. 2015 saw Bill’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
The Unitarian-Universalist Association designated this American singer-song, songwriter’s “Lean On Me,” as a hymn, and it was included in their supplemental hymnal, “Singing the Journey.”