Bill Withers is being remembered by music luminaries such as Chance the Rapper, Brian Wilson, Questlove, Mark Ronson, Kacey Musgraves and many more as “one of the greatest vocalists and songwriters ever.”
Withers died Monday at the age of 81 due to heart complications. And though he gave up music and stardom in the mid-1980s, his soulful and inspiring tracks like “Lean on Me,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lovely Day,” “Just the Two of Us” and many more live on in the memories of those he’s influenced.
“Aw man, Bill Withers was really the greatest. ‘Grandma’s Hands,’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine,’ ‘Lean on Me,’ ‘Use Me Up,’ ‘Just The Two Of Us’ and obviously ‘Lovely Day’ are some of the best songs of all time,” Chance the Rapper said in a tweet Friday. “My heart really hurts for him, it reminds me of playing records with at my grandma’s house.”
The Roots’ Questlove referred to Withers as “our Springsteen” as one of the last great examples of an everyman, working class, blue-collar musician.
“This news is super devastating. Just this week alone losing Vaughn Mason, Ellis Marsalis, Manu Dibango, & Wallace Rooney….was painful but Bill Withers man….this guy was my FIRST idol before The Jackson 5ive or Prince,” Questlove said on Instagram. “He was our Springsteen…our Everyman. One of the last celebrated blue collar musicians. Man this hurts to hear.”
Withers grew up in a coal mining town in West Virginia and was the youngest of six children, raised only by his mother and grandmother after his father passed when he was young. Before becoming a musician and moving to Los Angeles, he worked in a factory and spent nine years installing toilets as an aircraft mechanic in service of the Navy. He even wrote “Lean on Me” based on his experience growing up in West Virginia.
Some of his more direct influences in the folk and soul worlds include artists like John Legend, Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo and even Stevie Wonder, who introduced him when Withers was inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. But artists within pop, country, rap and rock all took to social media Friday to say how Withers was an inspiration to their work as well.
“If you are unaware of just how important Bill Withers is to hiphop, Google “Who sampled Bill Withers,” Talib Kweli said on Instagram. “If you are unaware of how important Bill Withers is to music and to our culture, watch the Still Bill documentary. Keep your loved ones in your heart, always.”
“I got to sing beside Bill at The Rock Hall of Fame in 2015 when he was inducted. He was the coolest warmest man and his speech was the funniest and most humble. We all fell in love with him that night. What a guy,” Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O said on Instagram.
Others also recommended the 2009 documentary “Still Bill,” named for his chart topping 1972 album of the same name, to see other ways in which Withers touched the hearts of people everywhere with his music and his spirit.
See more tributes to Withers below:
Aw man, Bill Withers was really the greatest. Grandma’s Hands, Ain’t No Sunshine, Lean on Me, Use Me Up, Just The Two Of Us and obviously Lovely Day are some of the best songs of all time. My heart really hurts for him, it reminds me of playing records with at my grandma’s house
— Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) April 3, 2020
— Frederick Joseph (@FredTJoseph) April 3, 2020
The silencing of a sublime voice. RIP Bill Withers. Aint no sunshine.
— Harry Shearer (@theharryshearer) April 3, 2020
Today we lost one of the sweetest souls. Bill Withers RIP. A more gentle, poetic and dignified man you will struggle to find. He was gracious enough to let me sample him on ‘demons’. Check out ‘Grandma’s Hands’ to remember one of soul music’s finest songwriters… xxx pic.twitter.com/iKzQD1rGJG
— Fatboy Slim (@FatboySlim) April 3, 2020
RIP Bill Withers ????
— K A C E Y (@KaceyMusgraves) April 3, 2020
— Nile Rodgers (@nilerodgers) April 3, 2020
One of the greatest vocalists and songwriters ever. Love u Mr Withers https://t.co/wzbxsNCRHc
— Mark Ronson (@MarkRonson) April 3, 2020
Safe passage, Bill Withers. Your incredible music will continue to radiate bright light for artists and musicians and listeners, forever. ???? pic.twitter.com/aizxNgU48t
— Richard Reed Parry (@ParryReed) April 3, 2020
Bill Withers was such a liekeable guy. Always loved that he was from Slab Fork, WV. Check out doc “Still Bill” my friend Alex Vlack made couple years ago it’s great.
— Hamilton Leithauser (@HLeithauser) April 3, 2020
RIP Bill Withers… that’s a really sad one. Such a unique amazing musician and song writer.. thanks for everything Bill….
— nigel godrich (@nigelgod) April 3, 2020
Devastated ????. Meeting + learning from Bill Withers has been one of the greatest gifts of my personal life + career. His music is timeless + perfect. We need his message of unity now more than ever. Sending all my love to his family + my sister Kori Withers. Rest in Power King ???? pic.twitter.com/Fm7fTffvP5
— JOSÉ JAMES (@josejamesmusic) April 3, 2020
Bill Withers you are beloved. I will forever lean on your music in times of need. So grateful the world got to share in the poetry & music you created in this lifetime. Thank you always. You’ve truly been a blessing. Rest In Paradise. Rest In Power. Please sing to my grandma…
— Rosario Dawson (@rosariodawson) April 3, 2020
The world is a little less cool today. Rest in perfect peace, Bill Withers. Deepest condolences to Marcia and the entire family. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/q30tuFFs4E
— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) April 3, 2020
Yet more sad news…
RIP Bill Withers, 81.
One of the great singer-songwriters, the maestro behind so many iconic songs like Lean On Me, Lovely Day, Ain’t No Sunshine.
Thanks for the music, Bill. pic.twitter.com/gHgDXNBRA5
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) April 3, 2020
The world lost a legend. Soul singer Bill Withers' song Grandma's Hands is one of my favorites and reminds me of my grandmother and so many other mother-figures in my life.
Let's all continue to live by his cherished lyrics during these times and lean on each other.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) April 3, 2020
— NAACP (@NAACP) April 3, 2020
Rest In Peace, maestro Bill Withers.
What a legacy.https://t.co/GBImqLRdPh
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) April 3, 2020
Ain't No Sunshine, Lean On Me, Lovely Day, Grandmas Hands. Are there better songs than this?? Thank U for writing them Bill Withers????????????
— Diane Warren (@Diane_Warren) April 3, 2020
— Stephanie Mills (@PrettyMill1) April 3, 2020
View this post on Instagram
2020 has been awful to us. #RIP Bill Withers. I’m going to be listening to his music all day. If you are unaware of just how important Bill Withers is to hiphop, google “Who sampled Bill Withers.” If you are unaware of how important Bill Withers is to music and to our culture, watch the Still Bill documentary. Keep your loved ones in your heart, always.
View this post on Instagram
Thank you Bill Withers ❤️????❤️ have you listened to Lean On Me in a while? It’s a masterpiece and I’ve been obsessed with it for the past few years, the song is a gift and it will lift you up and it will stir you- to look out for your neighbor, your friends, your family, and now that we find ourselves in a time where we need each other more than ever, let this song into your heart again. I got to sing beside Bill at The Rock Hall of Fame in 2015 when he was inducted. He was the coolest warmest man and his speech was the funniest and most humble. We all fell in love with him that night. What a guy. ????
View this post on Instagram
This news is super devastating. Just this week alone losing Vaughn Mason, Ellis Marsalis, Manu Dibango, & Wallace Rooney….was painful but Bill Withers man….this guy was my FIRST idol before The Jackson 5ive or Prince. He was our Springsteen…our Everyman. One of the last celebrated blue collar musicians. Man this hurts to hear.