Soul singer Bill Withers, famous for a number of timeless classics such as Lean On Me and Ain’t No Sunshine, has died aged 81.
The three-time Grammy winner, who withdrew from making music in the mid-1980s, died from heart complications, his family said.
His death comes as people across the world have found comfort in his music during the coronavirus pandemic, with healthcare workers, choirs, artists and more sharing their own renditions of Lean On Me.
In a statement, his family said: “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 grew up in the coal mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia, the last of six children. He overcame a childhood stutter but did not begin his professional musical career until he was in his early thirties, after joining the navy at 17.
He was the artist behind a number of hits from the 1970s and ’80s that have stood the test of time, including Lovely Day and Just The Two Of Us.
Lean On Me, an ode to the power of friendship, was performed at the inaugurations of both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, and, along with Ain’t No Sunshine, is among Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
Lovely Day, notable for its memorable sustained note of almost 19 seconds at the end, was his only song to make the top 10 in the UK.
Despite a relatively brief musical career, stopping recording in 1985 as he left “the hype and the hoopla” of the spotlight for a more private life, he produced nine albums and his songs provide the soundtracks of countless engagements, weddings and parties still to this day.
They have also lived on and remained a major influence on a number of artists who followed.
His track Grandma’s Hands was sampled on Blackstreet’s No Diggity in 1996, while Just The Two of Us was covered by Will Smith in 1997 and sampled by Eminem in his song Bonnie and Clyde in the same year.
Withers was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 by Stevie Wonder, saying in his acceptance speech that it was like “a lion opening the door for a kitty kat”.
He said his career had been a “wonderful, odd odyssey, with ups, downs and sometimes screw-me-arounds”, but that he would “always remember the good things”.
“Bottom line is, check this out: Stevie Wonder knows my name – and the brother just put me in the Hall of Fame.”
Paying tribute, Paul Williams, president and chairman of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, said: “We lost a giant of songwriting today.
“Bill Withers’ songs are among the most treasured and profound in the American songbook – universal in the way they touch people all over the world, transcending genre and generation.
“He was a beautiful man with a stunning sense of humour and a gift for truth.”
Withers is survived by his wife, Marcia, and children, Todd and Kori.