Bill Withers was born on 4 July, 1938. Bill Withers is an American singer-songwriter who performed and recorded from 1970 until 1985. Some of his best-known songs are “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Use Me,” “Lovely Day,” “Lean on Me”, “Grandma’s Hands”, and “Just the Two of Us”.
Bill Withers was born William Harrison Withers, Jr., Bill Withers is the son of a coal miner who worked for the Slab Fork Coal Company from 1917 to 1951 and a domestic for the William Gaston Caperton family that owned the coal company. Bill Withers was born in a house owned by the company on land leased from Beaver Coal Corporation, predecessor to Beaver Coal Company, Ltd, the youngest of 6 children in the small coal-mining unincorporated community of Slab Fork, West Virginia in Raleigh County. Bill Withers’ father, William Harrison Withers Sr. was a Baptist deacon and the treasurer for the local chapter of the United Mine Workers (UMWA). Bill Withers’ mother, Mattie Rose (née Galloway), was a widow and the mother of 4 children when she married William Harrison Withers, Sr. Withers’ parents separated in October 1941 and officially divorced in May 1942, and Bill Withers grew up both in a company house of the Slab Fork Coal Company in Slab Fork. In October 1941, he moved in with his Aunt Carrella Galloway Briggs’. In August 1944, he finally settled with his mother in Beckley, West Virginia and attended public school at East Park Elementary School and Stratton Junior High School in Beckley, and the coloured schools in Slab Fork.
After his Aunt Carrella died in 1949, Bill Withers formed a special relationship with his maternal grandmother, Lula Carter Galloway who came to live with his family until her death in 1953. Bill Withers then lived with his father in Slab Fork from 1948 to 1951 and attended the local segregated school. Returning to Beckley from Slab Fork after his father became ill, Bill Withers left school in the 7th grade after his father died, and worked several jobs, including a shoe shine boy in Beckley. On 15 July, 1951, William, Sr. died of azotemia and chronic glomerulonephritis when Bill Withers was 13. After his father’s death, Bill Withers lived with the family of the widow of his deceased brother Earl, Elfreida Martin. Bill Withers suffered from chronic stuttering until the age of 28.
In May 1956, at the age of 17, Bill Withers joined the United States Navy and served for 9 years, during which time he became interested in singing and songwriting. Bill Withers began writing songs to fill a need for lyrics that expressed what he felt. Following his discharge from the Navy in July 1965, he worked in the San Jose, California area and then moved to Los Angeles in 1967 to pursue a career in music.
Bill Withers worked as an assembler for several different companies, including Douglas Aircraft Corporation, in the Los Angeles area, while recording demo tapes with his own money that he shopped around and performing with local musicians at the night. Although he kept his job as an assembler after he debuted on the music scene in February 1971 with the single “Ain’t No Sunshine” and the album “Just As I Am,” he was shortly thereafter laid off by Weber Aircraft Corporation.
In early 1970, Bill Withers’ demo tape was received favourably by former music manager and music executive and entrepreneur Clarence Avant of the newly created Sussex Records, Inc., distributed by Buddah Records and Interior Music Corp.. Avant signed Bill Withers to recording and publishing contracts on 8 May, 1970, and Booker T. Jones of Stax Records produced Bill Withers’ debut album. Bill Withers also signed with the business manager representing Avant, Sussex, and Interior, Paul Orland of Orland, Chase, and Mucci and the law firm representing the same, the legendary music lawyers Abraham Somer, David Berman, and Richard Leher of Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp LLP. 4 3-hour studio sessions were planned to record the album, but problems with funding caused the album to be recorded in 3 sessions with a 6-month break between the 2nd and final sessions. Finally finished in January 1971, Just As I Am was released in February 1971 at the same time as the tracks “Harlem” and “Ain’t No Sunshine” were released as singles. The album was a hit, with “Ain’t No Sunshine” making it to number 3 pop and certified gold in the September 1971. Bill Withers made 1st appearance as a singer on 26 June, 1971 in Chicago at the Opera House.
At the 14th annual Grammy Awards on Tuesday, 14 March, 1972, Bill Withers won his 1st Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blues Song for “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Bill Withers began touring and recording with a band assembled from all Los Angeles-based members of The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band: drummer James Gadson, guitarist Bernoce Blackmon, keyboardist Ray Jackson, and bassist Melvin Dunlap. During a break in touring, Bill Withers wrote the songs for, recorded, and produced an album for the 1st time for his 2nd album, Still Bill Withers and Sussex/Buddah released it in May 1972. The single “Lean on Me” went to number 1 the week of 8 July, 1972. The album certified gold 7 September, 1972 and peaked at number 4 on the pop charts.
A Friday, 6 October, 1972 performance on a rainy night was recorded for the live album Bill Withers, Live at Carnegie Hall released 30 November, 1972. Bill Withers lost his mother, Mattie Withers to heart failure in New York in December 1972. Bill Withers married actress Donna Denise Nicholas on 17 January, 1973 in Van Nuys, CA and they divorced in October 1974 in Los Angeles, CA. This was followed by the 1974 album +’Justments.
After +’Justments, Bill Withers became involved in a legal dispute with the Sussex Records, Inc., Interior Music, and Clarence Avant beginning in January 1975 and ending in June 1975. After the lawsuit settled in June 1975, Bill Withers became free to sign with another label, but started his own independent music publishing companies, Golden Withers Music and Bleunig Music with the help of business manager Edgar Fleisher Gross of International Business Management in Century City and the noted music law firm of Hardee, Barovick, Konecky & Braun of New York and Beverly Hills. Sussex Records, Inc., went out of business, with the Internal Revenue Service auctioning off all the remaining assets in July 1975 because of unpaid federal and state taxes of $62,000. Bill Withers’ new label CBS Records received notice of the auction from Sussex Records, Inc. and Clarence Avant, CBS bought the Sussex masters in July 1975 for $50,500 at the auction. Just before this time, Bill Withers wrote and produced 2 songs on the Gladys Knight & the Pips record I Feel A Song released 1 January, 1974 and performed in concert on 23 September, 1974 at “The Zaire Music Festival” which preceded the historic Ali/Foreman fight in Zaire on 30 October, 1974. Footage of his musical performance appeared in the 1996 documentary film When We Were Kings and the accompanying soundtrack album was released in 1997.
Bill Withers signed with Columbia Records in 1975. Bill Withers’ 1st release with the label was Making Music, Making Friends, which had the single She’s Lonely and was featured in the movie Looking for Mr. Goodbar. The next 3 years saw an album released each year with Naked & Warm (1976), Menagerie (1977, containing the hit “Lovely Day”) and Bout Love (1978).
Due to problems with Columbia, he focused on joint projects for several years, including the Grammy-winning Just the Two of Us, which he performed with jazz saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. released in June 1980 and winning a Grammy Award at the 24th Annual Grammy Awards on 24 February, 1982, Soul Shadows with The Crusaders, and In The Name Of Love with Ralph MacDonald, which was nominated for a vocal performance Grammy.
Bill Withers’ final new release was 1985’s Watching You, Watching Me, which featured the Top 40 R&B single “Oh Yeah”. Bill Withers hired noted music lawyer Bernard Fischbach of Fischbach and Fischbach, and got out of his contract with Columbia and retired from recording, although he continued performing live sporadically, but retired from constant touring in 1989, last performing live for the birthday party of billionaire Tom Gores of Platinum Equity Partners in Santa Monica in 2004. In 1988, a remixed version of “Lovely Day” from the 1977 “Menagerie” Album, titled “Lovely Day (Sunshine Mix)” and remixed by Ben Liebrand, reached the Top 10 in the UK, prompting Bill Withers to perform on the long running Top of the Pops that year. The original release, in 1977, had reached No. 7 in the UK, and the re-release climbed to No. 4.
After retiring, Bill Withers focused on parenting to his 2 children, Todd and Kori Withers, also a singer and songwriter, with his 2nd wife Marcia whom he married 31 December, 1976 in Van Nuys, CA, and who handles the day-to-day running of his Beverly Hills-based publishing companies. In 1987, he received his 9th Grammy nomination and on 2 March, 1988 his 3rd Grammy for Best Rhythm and Blues Song as a songwriter for the re-recording of Lean On Me by Club Nouveau on their debut album Life, Love and Pain released in 1986 on Warner Bros. Records.
Bill Withers contributed 2 songs to Jimmy Buffett’s 13 July, 2004 release “License To Chill.” Following the reissues of Still Bill on 28 January, 2003 and Just As I am on 8 March, 2005, there was speculation of previously unreleased material being issued as a new album. In 2006, Sony gave back to Bill Withers his previously unreleased tapes.
In 2008, a feature documentary is made about Bill Withers, called ‘Still Bill’. It is directed by Damani Baker and Alex Vlack. The movie shows Bill Withers at home jamming with members of his old band, and even brings him back on stage singing ‘Grandma’s Hands’ during a tribute concert organised for the documentary.
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