GRAMMY-winning artist Bill Withers was the featured guest for a recent installment of the GRAMMY Museum's An Evening With series. Before an intimate audience at the Museum's Clive Davis Theater, Withers discussed his classic songs such as "Lean On Me" and "Ain't No Sunshine," his childhood and his grandmother's influence, and recording his debut album, 1971's Just As I Am, among other topics. Withers' daughter, vocalist Kori Withers, performed a brief set including "Lean On Me" and "Ain't No Sunshine."
"I was one of those kids who was smaller than all the girls. I stuttered. I had asthma. So I had some issues," said Withers. "My grandmother was that one person who would always say that I was going to be OK. … When you're a weaker kid, whoever champions you becomes very important to you."
Born in the coal mining town of Slab Fork, W.Va., Withers began pursuing a music career in 1967 following service in the United States Navy. After recording some demos, he met industry executive Clarence Avant, who signed him to Sussex Records. With Booker T. Washington presiding as producer, Withers' debut album, Just As I Am, was released in 1971. The album contained the Top 5 hit "Ain't No Sunshine," which garnered Withers his first GRAMMY for Best Rhythm & Blues Song. Withers' third album, 1972's Still Bill, contained the classic "Lean On Me," a song inspired by his childhood experiences. "Lean On Me" reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 while Still Bill topped Billboard's R&B Albums chart.
Throughout the '70s, Wither would score additional hits with songs such as "Use Me" (No. 2, 1972), "Kissing My Love" (No. 31, 1973) and "Lovely Day" (No. 30, 1977). He released his final studio album, Watching You Watching Me, in 1985. In 1981 Withers won a GRAMMY for Best Rhythm & Blues Song for "Just The Two Of Us," a song co-written by Ralph MacDonald and William Salter. His third career GRAMMY came in 1987 for Best Rhythm & Blues Song for his classic "Lean On Me." "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Lean On Me" were inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 1999 and 2007, respectively.
More recently, Withers was the subject of a documentary named after his 1972 solo album. Filmed over two years by directors Damani Baker and Alex Vlack and released in 2009, Still Bill provides an intimate glimpse inside the soul legend's career, featuring classic concert footage, a journey to his birthplace in West Virginia, and interviews with Withers, artists such as My Morning Jacket's Jim James and Sting, and industry executives such as Avant.
Upcoming GRAMMY Museum events include Spotlight: LP (May 14), Homegrown: The Belle Brigade (May 16), The Drop: Lisa Marie Presley (May 17), and Reel To Reel: The Beatles' Yellow Submarine (May 29).
For more information on the GRAMMY Museum, visit www.grammymuseum.org.
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