Remembering Bill Withers

28th April 2020

This is a tough episode for the Bullseye team. The late Bill Withers passed away last month at the age of 81. We look back at our two interviews with the soul singer responsible for such classics as “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me” and “Grandma’s Hands” His unique and soulful baritone and intonation coupled with his thoughtful lyrics and down to earth aesthetic ran counter to the more flashy acts of his time and earned him three Grammy awards before he decided to leave the industry on his own terms in the mid 80s. In 2015 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Two of his songs are even in the Grammy Hall of Fame! We look back at the life of the man, the myths behind why he left the industry and the soul of the artist. Bill also talked to us about charting his own course to happiness in life.

Episode notes

We celebrate the life of the late singer songwriter Bill Withers

On March 30, 2020 the world lost the great Bill Withers. There will be no other like him. 

Bill was born on the 4th of July in Slab Fork, West Virginia. The youngest of six children, he grew up with a stutter and not always feeling like he belonged. It was there that he decided that in order to avoid the grueling work of his father in the coal mines he’d need to leave town.  

He enrolled in an aircraft mechanic school and soon enlisted in the U.S. Navy at only 17 years old. After he left the navy he decided to move to California to pursue a career in singing as he had been a singer from a very young age. He held a number of odd jobs by day, singing in clubs by night. 

He was always hopeful but pragmatic. In fact, he was still working a day job in 1971 – the same year his hit single “Ain’t No Sunshine” was released. He was well into his 30s then, too. Not typical in a youth-obsessed industry.

But Bill Withers was in no way your typical artist.

With classic songs including; “Lovely Day” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me” and “Grandma’s Hands,” you can’t evoke late 60s/early 70s soul music without mentioning his name. His unique and soulful baritone and intonation coupled with his thoughtful lyrics and down to earth aesthetic ran counter to the more flashy acts of his time and earned him three Grammy awards before he decided to leave the industry on his own terms in the mid 80s. In 2015 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Two of his songs are even in the Grammy Hall of Fame! 

He retired from the industry in 1985 but he continued to write – penning songs for artists like Jimmy Buffet and George Benson. 

We look back at the life of the man, the reasoning behind why he left the industry and the soul of the artist. Bill also talked to us about charting his own course to happiness in life. We are so grateful for the time we shared with Bill in these interviews and will miss the artist and the man. 

 

 

Pick up one (or all) of his classic albums today.

 

 

In this episode...

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Guests

  • Bill Withers

About the show

Bullseye is a celebration of the best of arts and culture in public radio form. Host Jesse Thorn sifts the wheat from the chaff to bring you in-depth interviews with the most revered and revolutionary minds in our culture.

Bullseye has been featured in Time, The New York Times, GQ and McSweeney’s, which called it “the kind of show people listen to in a more perfect world.” Since April 2013, the show has been distributed by NPR.

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