American soul singer Bill Withers, whose hits include Lean on Me, Lovely Day and Ain’t No Sunshine, has died aged 81 from heart complications.
The three-time Grammy Award winner, who withdrew from making music in the mid-1980s, died on Monday (local time) in Los Angeles, a family statement said.
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 of Lean on Me to help get through the difficult times.
“We are devastated by the loss of our beloved, devoted husband and father,” the family statement said.
“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’ songs during his brief career have become the soundtracks of countless engagements, weddings and backyard parties.
Lean on Me, a paean to friendship, was performed at the inaugurations of both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.
I love listening to Bill Withers sing. Today as we mourn his death, we should lean into the sentiment of one of his most loved songs: lean on each other when times are tough and know that there’s always tomorrow. May he rest in peace. https://t.co/rWbTYNp9Ki
— Bill Clinton (@BillClinton) April 3, 2020
Ain’t No Sunshine and Lean on Me are among Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
His death caused a torrent of appreciation on social media, including from former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, who said Withers’ music has been a cherished part of her life.
“It added to my joy in the good times, and also gave me comfort and inspiration when I needed it most,” she tweeted.
Since my early high school days, Bill Withers’ music has been a cherished part of my life. It added to my joy in the good times, and also gave me comfort and inspiration when I needed it most. RIP💔 https://t.co/1cKRZT8XhQ
— Valerie Jarrett (@ValerieJarrett) April 3, 2020
Singer Jose James said “we need his message of unity now more than ever”.
Susanna Hoffs sent “peace and love” and Billy Dee Williams tweeted “your music cheered my heart and soothed my soul”.
His Live at Carnegie Hall in 1973 made Rolling Stone’s 50 Greatest Live Albums of All Time.
“The hardest thing in songwriting is to be simple and yet profound. And Bill seemed to understand, intrinsically and instinctively, how to do that,” Sting said in Still Bill, a 2010 documentary of Withers.
He was awarded Grammys as a songwriter for Ain’t No Sunshine in 1971 and for Just the Two Of Us in 1981.
In 1987, Withers received his ninth Grammy nomination and third Grammy as a songwriter for the re-recording of the 1972 hit Lean on Me by Club Nouveau.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 by Stevie Wonder.
Withers also was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005.
“I’m not a virtuoso, but I was able to write songs that people could identify with. I don’t think I’ve done bad for a guy from Slab Fork, West Virginia,” Withers told Rolling Stone in 2015.
He is survived by his wife, Marcia, and children, Todd and Kori.