“Lean on Me” singer Bill Withers has died

Legendary soul artist Bill Withers has died from heart complications, his family confirmed in a statement to The Associated Press. He was 81.

“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,” the statement read. “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 enjoyed a string of hits that include “Lean On Me,” “Lovely Day,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Grandma’s Hands” and “Just The Two of Us,” died on Monday in Los Angeles the family said.

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Withers and his five siblings were raised in the coal-mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia. He was born with a stutter, which he said made it hard for him to fit in. In search of new opportunities, at 17 years old, he enlisted in the Navy before moving to Los Angeles to pursue a music career in 1967.

He used what little money he had to self-finance demos, which eventually paid off and landed him at Sussex Records, where Booker T. Jones produced his debut Album “Just As I Am.” 

That project put the 33-year-old Withers on a pathway to success. His breakthrough hit,  “Ain’t No Sunshine,” climbed the U.S. charts and the 1971 tune went on to win a Grammy Award for the singer. 

As Withers became a household name, one year later, he released “Lean On Me,” which went on to be one of Rolling Stone magazine’s greatest hits of all time. The classic song about friendship was chosen to be performed at the inaugurations of presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

In 1981, Withers received his second Grammy Award for “Just The Two Of Us”.

Withers’ fruitful career, during which he produced eight albums, was relatively brief. The artist decided to end his run in 1985, 14 years after he first started recording. 

Despite walking away from the limelight, the power of his music lived on through the countless artists who covered his songs. From Barbara Streisand to Michael Jackson. Aretha Franklin, Paul McCartney, Johnny Mathis, Diana Ross and many more, Withers’ music connected people all over the world. In 1987, a re-recording of “Lean On Me” by Club Nouveau won Withers his third Grammy Award.

The star was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005 and Stevie Wonder inducted him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.

Many celebrities took to social media to share their tributes. 

“Your voice, songs, and total expression gave us love, hope, and strength. My soul always has & always will be full of your music,” tweeted Lenny Kravitz. “Your humility displayed & depth of your power as you carried us all to a better place.” 

“He will truly be missed,” added Jennifer Hudson.

Withers is survived by his wife and two children.

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