The youngest of six children, Bill Withers was born into a coal mining family on July 4, 1938. He was born in Slab Fork, West Virginia and raised in Beckley West Virginia. His father died when he was just a boy of thirteen. He took to working odd jobs to help out his mother; at the age of seventeen he decided to join the Navy.
Withers served in the United States Navy for nine years. During his time in the Navy he became interested in singing and writing music. Once discharged from the Navy; he moved to Los Angeles in 1967, and began to seek a musical career.
Withers got a job as an assembler and worked for several different companies, which included Douglas Aircraft Corporation. With study employment, he recorded demo tapes and shopped them around using his own money. At nights he would perform in night clubs.
Once he finally had a hit with “Ain’t No Sunshine” he kept his job as an assembler because he wasn’t sure the fame would last. The music business is a fickle industry and there were no guarantees of success.
Withers met Clarence Avant of Sussex Records in early 1970. Avant liked Withers music, signed him to a recording contract and assigned Booker T. Jones to produce his first album. The album “Just as I Am” was released in 1971. The singles “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Grandma’s Hands” were included in the Album.
Withers began touring, due to the success of his first album, with the remaining members of the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. He was able to quit his job as an assembler when “Ain’t No Sunshine” won a Grammy. The song had already sold over a million copies and it was awarded a gold disc in September 1971.
He took a break from touring to record his second album, Still Bill. The single,“Lean On Me”, hit number one in July 1972. With sales in excess of three million, it was his second gold disc. Withers third gold disc was, the hit, “Use Me” which was released in August 1972.
November 30, 1972 saw the release of “Bill Withers, Live at Carnegie Hall”. He then recorded the album +’Justments in 1974. He was unable to record any more after becoming involved in a legal dispute with Sussex Records.
He didn’t stop working; however, and produced two songs for Gladys Knight and the Pips. Then in October of 1974, performed with James Brown, Etta James and B.B. King, in concert at the historic Rumble in the Jungle boxing match between Mohamed Ali and George Foreman in Zaire. This performance can be seen in the 1966 Documentary film, When We Were Kings.
In 1975 Withers signed with Columbia Records. His first album was Making Music, Making Friends. The single “She’s Lonely” from this album was featured in the movie Looking for Mr. Goodbar. He went on to release the albums Naked & warm in 1976, Menagerie in 1977 with the single “Lovely Day”. He released Bout Love, in 1978. The single “Get on Down” from Bout Love was also featured in Looking for Mr. Goodbar.
June of 1980 saw the release of “Just the Two of Us” winning a Grammy. He collaborated with The Crusaders for “Soul Shadows” and “In the Name of Love” with Ralph MacDonald.
In 1985 Withers released “Oh Yeah” then severed ties with Columbia Records which to date was his last studio Album.
A score of famous artist have covered Bills music, the list includes Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Tom Jones, Paul McCartney, Sting, Joe Cocker, Mick Jagger, Al Jarreau and Many others.
Bill Withers music has been featured in many films and all across the TV screen.
Withers was Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005. He was honored by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 2006. “Lean On Me” was enshrined in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2007.
Bill Withers married Marcia Johnson in 1976 and the union produced two children, Todd and Kori. Marcia is the manager of his Beverly Hills publishing company. As the kids reached adulthood, they also became involved in the company.
While he prefers to live away from all the public eye, the pleasurable sounds of Bill Withers will always be present in the unique American musical experience.