Soul legend Bill Withers has died at the age of 81

3 April 2020, 18:40

Bill Withers
Bill Withers. Picture: Getty

Legendary singer Bill Withers has died aged 81 from heart complications.

The singer, who wrote classics including 'Lean On Me', 'Just The Two Of Us' and 'Ain't No Sunshine' died on Monday (March 30), his family announced today.

The three-time Grammy award winner's death comes as the public has drawn inspiration from 'Lean On Me', with care workers and first responders battling coronavirus recording their own versions for social media.

“We are devastated by the loss of our beloved, devoted husband and father," the family statement read.

"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.

“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.”

Bill Withers was known for his smooth baritone voice, and wrote some of the best songs of the 1970s, including 'Just The Two Of Us', 'Lovely Day', 'Ain't No Sunshine', 'Who Is He' and 'Use Me'.

With 'Lovely Day', he set the record for the longest sustained note on a chart hit, holding a high E note for 18 seconds.

He stopped recording in 1985, but his songs were still a huge influence on R&B and hip-hop songs. 'Grandma's Hands' was heavily sampled on Blackstreet's 'No Diggity', and Eminem used 'Just The Two Of Us' on his hit 1997 song 'Bonnie And Clyde'.

'Lean On Me' has also been recently connected with the coronavirus pandemic, with many people posting their own versions of the song to support health workers.

Born in 1938, Withers was the youngest of six children. His father died when he was still a child, and he was then raised by his mother and grandmother.

He came to music quite late at the age of 29, having spent nine years in the Navy.

He taught himself to play guitar between shifts while making toilet seats for the Boeing aircraft company, and used his wages to pay for record studio sessions in LA.

"I figured out that you didn't need to be a virtuoso to accompany yourself," he said in 2015.

Withers recorded his first album Just As I Am in 1970, featuring the ballad 'Ain't No Sunshine', giving him his first Grammy award.

He is survived by his wife, Marcia, and children, Todd and Kori.

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