Bill Withers has died of heart complications, aged 81.
News of the singer-songwriter’s death broke on Friday afternoon, April 3, accompanied by a statement from his family that read:
“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.”
Withers, who overcame a childhood stutter, was born in the coal mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia. After his parents divorced when he was only three, Withers was raised by his mother’s family in nearby Beckley. He joined the Navy at 17 and spent nine years in the service as an aircraft mechanic, installing toilets. After his discharge, he moved to Los Angeles, worked at an aircraft parts factory, bought a guitar at a pawn shop and recorded demos of his tunes in hopes of landing a recording contract.
In 1971 he signed to Sussex Records and released his first album, Just As I Am, which contained the hits Grandma’s Hands and Ain’t No Sunshine, the latter inspired by the Jack Lemmon film Days Of Wine & Roses. Ain’t No Sunshine was originally released as the B-side of his debut single, Harlem, but DJs flipped the disc and the song climbed to No. three on the Billboard charts. A year later he topped the charts again with the anthemic ballad Lean On Me, issuing a second [and perhaps his best] album, Still Bill, which also included Who Is He (and What Is He to You) and Use Me.
A string of albums followed throughout the seventies and early eighties, his biggest international successes coming with the single Lovely Day, co-written with Skip Scarborough, and Just The Two Of Us, co-written with Ralph MacDonald and William Salter.
When Sussex Records went bankrupt Withers was signed up by Columbia Records, where he no longer had complete control over his music. None of his Columbia albums reached the Top 40, except for 1977’s Menagerie, which included Lovely Day.
He retired from music in the late eighties, preferring to live a quiet family life. By then he had been awarded Grammys as a songwriter for Ain’t No Sunshine  and Just The Two Of Us in 1981. In 1987 he received his third Grammy as a songwriter for the re-recording of Lean On Me by Club Nouveau. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 by Stevie Wonder.