Bill Withers, the acclaimed 1970s soul singer behind hits Ain’t No Sunshine and Lean On Me has died from heart complications aged 81, his family said.
The singer died on Monday in Los Angeles, the family told the Associated Press. They described him in a statement as a “solitary man with a heart driven to connect to the world”. “He spoke honestly to people and connected them to each other,” the statement said.
Known for his smooth baritone vocals and sumptuous soul arrangements, he wrote some of the 70s best-remembered songs, including Just The Two Of Us, Lovely Day and Use Me.
Although he stopped recording in 1985, his songs remained a major influence on R&B and hip-hop.
His track Grandma’s Hands was sampled on Blackstreet’s No Diggity, and Eminem reinterpreted Just The Two Of Us on his hit 1997 Bonnie And Clyde.
“We are devastated by the loss of our beloved, devoted husband and father,” said his family.
“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.”
The star’s signature song Lean On Me has recently become associated with the Coronavirus pandemic, with many people posting their own versions to support health workers and other essential services.
Born in 1938, Withers was the youngest of six children. His father died when he was a child and he was raised by his mother and grandmother.
His entry to the music world came late – at the age of 29 – after a nine-year stint in the Navy
He taught himself to play guitar between shifts at his job making toilet seats for the Boeing aircraft company, and used his wages to pay for studio sessions in LA.
“I figured out that you didn’t need to be a virtuoso to accompany yourself,” he told Rolling Stone magazine in 2015.
He recorded his first album, Just As I Am, with Booker T Jones in 1970. It included the mournful ballad Ain’t No Sunshine, which earned him his first Grammy award the subsequent year.
He scored another million-selling hit with Lean On Me in 1972.
Gospel-tinged and inspirational, it was based his experiences growing up in a West Virginia coal mining town. When times were hard, neighbours would lend each other help and assistance.
It was later performed at the inaugurations of both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.
But Withers quit at the top, walking away from his career after scoring a pop hit with Just The Two of Us, although he occasionally toured with Grover Washington Jr in the 1990s.
Despite his influence on generations of musicians, he did not keep track of music after his career ended.
“These days,” he said in 2015, “I wouldn’t know a pop chart from a Pop-Tart.”