“A solitary man with a heart driven to connect to the world at large, with his poetry and music, he spoke honestly to people and connected them to each other.”
The three-time Grammy winner released just eight albums before walking away from the spotlight in 1985, but he left an incredible mark on the music community and the world at large. Songs like “Lean On Me,” “Grandma’s Hands,” “Use Me,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and “Lovely Day” are embedded in the culture and have been covered countless times. While many of Withers’ biggest songs were recorded in the Seventies, they have proven to be timeless hits. “Lean on Me” emerged once again in recent weeks as an anthem of hope and solidarity in the time of COVID-19.
He had to endure incredible racism in the Jim Crow South. “One of the first things I learned, when I was around four,” he said, “was that if you make a mistake and go into a white women’s bathroom, they’re going to kill your father.”
Looking back decades later, Withers was still amazed at his success at a relatively late age in his life. “Imagine 40,000 people at a stadium watching a football game,” he told Rolling Stone. “About 10,000 of them think they can play quarterback. Three of them probably could. I guess I was one of those three.”
In 2015, he made a rare public appearance when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “I still have to process this,” he said shortly after learning the news.