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Musician William Harrison ‘‘Bill’’ Withers Jr. (July 4, 1938 – March 30, 2020), a popular 20th-century rhythm and blues singer, traced his roots to a West Virginia coal camp. Withers was born into a miner’s family of 13 children in Slab Fork, Raleigh County. His mother moved the family to Beckley when Withers was three, but he continued to spend weekends in Slab Fork.

By the time he was 15, Withers was singing with gospel groups in the Beckley area and playing baseball. He spent a summer in the 1950s playing professional baseball in the Negro League. At age 17, he joined the U.S. Navy where he spent the next nine years.

Withers was discharged in San Jose in 1965, and moved to Los Angeles in 1968 to pursue a full-time music career. In 1970, Clarence Avant of Sussex Records introduced Withers to Booker T. Jones of the band Booker T. and the M.G.s. In 1971, Withers released his first album, Just As I Am, including his first Grammy-winning song, ‘‘Ain’t No Sunshine.’’ Sussex released ‘‘Lean On Me’’ in April 1972. It topped the charts on July 8, 1972, where it remained for three weeks.

He remained active in music through his publishing company. In addition to his Grammy in 1972 for ‘‘Ain’t No Sunshine,’’ he won a Grammy in 1982 for ‘‘Just the Two of Us,’’ and another in 1988 for ‘‘Lean on Me,’’ re-made that year by the band, Club Nouveau. Bill Withers was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005 and into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2007.

Bill Withers was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at an April 18, 2015, ceremony in Cleveland. In 2017, West Virginia University awarded him the honorary degree Doctor of Music from the College of Creative Arts.

Bill Withers died in Los Angeles from heart complications. He was 81.

In 2021 the West Virginia Department of Transportation renamed Slab Fork Road from the Lester Highway to the Coalfields Expressway in Raleigh County as “Bill Withers Memorial Road.” In April 2024, the Library of Congress named his song “Ain’t No Sunshine” to its National Recording Registry, which highlights recordings that have made a significant cultural impact on United States culture.


e-WV presents West Virginia Public Broadcasting on Bill Withers

This Article was written by William R. Archer

Last Revised on April 17, 2024

Cite This Article

Archer, William R. "Bill Withers." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 17 April 2024. Web. 12 July 2024.


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