Bill Withers passed away on Friday (April 3) at the age of 81. Heart complications were indicated as the cause of death.
In total Withers put six records in the pop Top 40 with many more on the R&B charts. He’s perhaps best known for two of them: “Lean On Me,” which spent three weeks in the #1 position in 1972 (and survived a less-than-stellar remake in the 1980s), and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” his first crossover hit from 1971 which rested in the #3 spot. These have been staples of the Oldies format for years, and I suspect that if your local station is still locally programmed/staffed you’ll hear one or both today.
I’d add two others of note: “Use Me,” which spent two weeks at #2 in 1972 and is instantly recognizable to fans of Ron Burgundy due to its use in Anchorman, and “Just the Two Of Us,” which lists Grover Washington, Jr. as the principal musician – but there’s no mistaking Withers’ vocal. “Just the Two Of Us” spent three weeks at #2 in 1981 and won a Grammy for best song that year; for me, the indelible memory associated with it is connected to a class trip to the roller rink. It was the backdrop for a couples’ only skate, and as a twelve year old (and a lousy skater) that meant extra time on the pinball machine.
But there’s a different song I thought to dig out today, and that’s “Lovely Day.” In 1977 Withers hadn’t seen a crossover Pop hit in four years. This record changed that somewhat, only climbing up to #30. I missed it the first time around, but years later in my first radio job at WJTW/Joliet I discovered it in the cart rack at the back of the studio. I worked overnights at first, and three in the morning is a great time to tweak the playlist. This tune accomplished that nicely.
You can hear Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” by clicking here.