Memories and music: Bill Withers

A dedication to Black Music Month all year round

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Photo credit: annulla/Flickr

Former President George W. Bush had a lot of screw-ups during his eight-year term, but he did do a couple things right. One of them was proclaiming June as Black Music Month on May 31, 2002. June is just around the corner* but it shouldn’t be the only time to celebrate black artists’ accomplishments, especially the legends. In this 60-part series** I feature one of my favorite artists each day, with details in this order: 1. Why was this artist chosen; 2. My first or most personal memory of them; 3. What their accomplishments are. There will be a balanced combination of some oldies, some newbies and some artists who are in between stages.

Bill Withers: July 4, 1938 ~ March 30, 2020

Why was this artist chosen? Never underestimate a person’s talent by his job. Bill Withers was a navy veteran who made toilet seats at the Boeing aircraft company. But while doing labor intensive work, that didn’t stop him from recording demos. And boy, did he reap the benefits. Bill Withers has an excellent balance of soul, blues and plenty of songs to get you on the dance floor. While “Lean On Me” can be seen as either somber or inspirational, “Use Me” is about as ironic as it is soulful. Then of course there’s “Lovely Day,” the BBQ anthem that black folks (and everybody who loves soul music) at their family outings.

First memory, most personal memory of his music: When I watched 2005’s “Roll Bounce” and saw Bow Wow delivering newspapers while those kids plotted on throwing water balloons at him, I started singing along to “Lovely Day.” I knew the song but not the artist. I looked Bill Withers up to see why I knew so many of his songs word-for-word (thanks to my parents). He’s one of those artists that some may know more for his songs, such as “Ain’t No Sunshine,” more than his name. (If you’ve seen “Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail,” then you remember Christian Keyes bellowing that song out, too.)

Accomplishments: “Something That Turns You On” spent 12 weeks on the R&B/Hip-Hop Billboard charts. “Watching You Watching Me” spent 25 weeks on the R&B/Hip-Hop Album Billboard charts. The single “Oh Yeah!” spent 14 weeks on the R&B/Hip-Hop Billboard charts. “Ain’t No Sunshine” went gold, and made it to number 6 in R&B and number 3 in Pop during the summer of 1971. The latter song also won a Grammy as Best R&B song. “Lean On Me” made it to the popular 1989 film — with the same name — starring Morgan Freeman.

In 2020: I’m not sure I’ll re-publish all 60 of those entries from 2010 to 2011, but finding out that Bill Withers passed away at the age of 81 hit different. For a man to leave such a mark on the R&B/soul industry after a 23-year gap before he released his third album (“Justments” in 2010) shows just how good he is. Many artists are forgotten after one song. His music has passed on from generation to generation. The past couple of months have already been crazy enough (COVID-19), and news of his departure wasn’t something I would’ve predicted. But it makes me proud to know I tried to give him his roses while he was living. I highly recommend watching the 2009 film “Still Bill” if you have not already. He’s a fascinating artist who knew he didn’t get the shine he deserved and just didn’t sweat the spotlight (or have “showing-off steroids,” as he described). He was indeed a beautiful soul. Rest in Peace.

* Note: This post has been edited from its original publication on Associated Content/Yahoo Contributor Network for Black Music Month. Its original publication date was June 8, 2010.

** This series was published for 30 days in 2010 and a second set came in 2011.

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