Lean On Me,’ ‘Lovely Day’ Singer Bill Withers Dies at 81

By MARK KENNEDY, AP Entertainment Writer

Bill Withers, who wrote and sang a string of soulful songs in the 1970s that have stood the test of time, including “ Lean on Me, ” “Lovely Day” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” has died from heart complications, his family said in a statement to The Associated Press. He was 81.

The three-time Grammy Award winner, who withdrew from making music in the mid-1980s, died on Monday in Los Angeles, the statement said. His death comes as the public has drawn inspiration from his music during the coronavirus pandemic, with health care workers, choirs, artists and more posting their own renditions on “Lean on Me” to help get through the difficult times.

In this June 21, 2006 file photo, singer-songwriter Bill Withers poses in his office in Beverly Hills, Calif. Withers, who wrote and sang a string of soulful songs in the 1970s that have stood the test of time, including “Lean On Me,” “Lovely Day” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” died in Los Angeles from heart complications on Monday, March 30, 2020. He was 81. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

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

Withers’ songs during his brief career have become the soundtracks of countless engagements, weddings and backyard parties. They have powerful melodies and perfect grooves melded with a smooth voice that conveys honesty and complex emotions without vocal acrobatics.

“Lean on Me,” a paean to friendship, was performed at the inaugurations of both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean on Me” are among Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

“He’s the last African-American Everyman,” musician and band leader Questlove told Rolling Stone in 2015. “Bill Withers is the closest thing black people have to a Bruce Springsteen.”

His death caused a torrent of appreciation on social media, including from former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, who said Withers’ music has been a cherished part of her life. “It added to my joy in the good times, and also gave me comfort and inspiration when I needed it most,” she tweeted. Singer José James said “we need his message of unity now more than ever” and Billy Dee Williams tweeted “your music cheered my heart and soothed my soul.”

“We lost a giant of songwriting today,” ASCAP President and Chairman Paul Williams said in a statement. “Bill Withers’ songs are among the most treasured and profound in the American songbook — universal in the way they touch people all over the world, transcending genre and generation. He was a beautiful man with a stunning sense of humor and a gift for truth.”

Withers, who overcame a childhood stutter, was born the last of six children in the coal mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia. After his parents divorced when he was 3, Withers was raised by his mother’s family in nearby Beckley.

He joined the Navy at 17 and spent nine years in the service as an aircraft mechanic installing toilets. After his discharge, he moved to Los Angeles, worked at an aircraft parts factory, bought a guitar at a pawn shop and recorded demos of his tunes in hopes of landing a recording contract.

In 1971, signed to Sussex Records, he put out his first album, “Just As I Am,” with the legendary Booker T. Jones at the helm. It had the hits “Grandma’s Hands” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” which was inspired by the Jack Lemmon film “Days of Wine and Roses.” He was photographed on the cover, smiling and holding his lunch pail.

In this June 21, 2006 file photo, singer-songwriter Bill Withers poses in his office in Beverly Hills, Calif. Withers, who wrote and sang a string of soulful songs in the 1970s that have stood the test of time, including “Lean On Me,” “Lovely Day” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” died in Los Angeles from heart complications on Monday, March 30, 2020. He was 81. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

“Ain’t No Sunshine” was originally released as the B-side of his debut single, “Harlem.” But radio DJs flipped the disc and the song climbed to No. 3 on the Billboard charts and spent a total of 16 weeks in the top 40.

Withers went on to generate more hits a year later with the inspirational “Lean on Me,” the menacing “Who Is He (and What Is He to You)” and the slinky “Use Me” on his second album, “Still Bill.”

Later would come the striking “ Lovely Day,” co-written with Skip Scarborough and featuring Withers holding the word “day” for almost 19 seconds, and “Just the Two Of Us,” co-written with Ralph MacDonald and William Salter. His “Live at Carnegie Hall” in 1973 made Rolling Stone’s 50 Greatest Live Albums of All Time.

“The hardest thing in songwriting is to be simple and yet profound. And Bill seemed to understand, intrinsically and instinctively, how to do that,” Sting said in “Still Bill,” a 2010 documentary of Withers.

But Withers’ career stalled when Sussex Records went bankrupt and he was scooped up by Columbia Records. He no longer had complete control over his music and chafed when it was suggested he do an Elvis cover. His new executives found Withers difficult.

None of his Columbia albums reached the Top 40 except for 1977’s “Menagerie,” which produced “Lovely Day.” (His hit duet with Grover Washington Jr. “Just the Two of Us” was on Washington’s label). Withers’ last album was 1985′s “Watching You Watching Me.”

Though his songs often dealt with relationships, Withers also wrote ones with social commentary, including “Better Off Dead” about an alcoholic’s suicide, and “I Can’t Write Left-Handed,” about an injured Vietnam War veteran.

This April 18, 2015 file photo shows singer-songwriter Bill Withers speaking at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Cleveland. Withers, who wrote and sang a string of soulful songs in the 1970s that have stood the test of time, including “Lean On Me,” “Lovely Day” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” died in Los Angeles from heart complications on Monday, March 30, 2020. He was 81. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)

He was awarded Grammys as a songwriter for “Ain’t No Sunshine” in 1971 and for “Just the Two Of Us” in 1981. In 1987, Bill received his ninth Grammy nomination and third Grammy as a songwriter for the re-recording of the 1972 hit “ Lean on Me” by Club Nouveau.

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 by Stevie Wonder. Withers thanked his wife as well as the R&B pioneers who helped his career like Ray Jackson, Al Bell and Booker T. Jones. He also got in a few jabs at the record industry, saying A&R stood for “antagonistic and redundant.” Withers also was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005.

His music has been covered by such artists as Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Tom Jones, Linda Ronstadt, Paul McCartney, Sting, Johnny Mathis, Aaron Neville, Al Jarreau, Mick Jagger, Nancy Wilson, Diana Ross. His music has been sampled for BlackStreet’s “No Diggity,” Will Smith’s version of “ Just the Two Of Us, ” Black Eyed Peas’ “Bridging the Gap” and Twista’s “Sunshine.” The song “Lean on Me” was the title theme of a 1989 movie starring Morgan Freeman.

His songs are often used on the big screen, including “The Hangover,” “28 Days,” “American Beauty,” “Jerry Maguire,” “Crooklyn,” “Flight,” “Beauty Shop,” “The Secret Life of Pets” and “Flight.”

“I’m not a virtuoso, but I was able to write songs that people could identify with. I don’t think I’ve done bad for a guy from Slab Fork, West Virginia,” Withers told Rolling Stone in 2015.

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

How to Live With COVID-19

Photo: Melissa Hom

“There is no wealth but life,” the great critic John Ruskin once wrote. You can hear that faith in the words of Andrew Cuomo, whose Catholic upbringing still clearly reverberates in his soul. “If it’s the public health versus the economy, the only choice is public health,” Cuomo tweeted. “You cannot put a value on human life. You do the right thing. That’s what Pop taught us.” That’s why American soldiers never leave a fellow behind, why American doctors never abandon a patient, and why American rescuers and first responders go beyond the feasible and reach for the impossible.

Epidemics make this choice explicit. At the moment, we have effectively shut down almost the entire economy to prevent the premature deaths of hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens by a virus. We’ve made a decision to sacrifice wealth for life. And we’ve done that even as we are still in the dark regarding so much about this particular pathogen.

Virus is a wakeup call for Black people

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It is often stated in the Black community: “When the country gets a cold, we get pneumonia.”

The genesis of this saying is unclear, but the inference is not, nor is it inaccurate. Black people suffer more from adverse medical conditions, with poorer outcomes.

Recipe for disaster

At present the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has noted that those with chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, serious heart conditions, those immunocompromised including cancer treatment, severely obese, diabetic, with renal failure, or liver disease are at higher risk for severe illness.

That warning should be clearly heard by the African American community. We are 2.2 times more likely to have diabetes, 20% more likely to have high blood pressure, and 30% more likely to be obese.

The incidence of COPD (lung disease) in our women is 34% higher than in White women. Bottom line, if we acquire the virus, bad things are more likely to happen. That’s pass number one.

SDoH categories

Let us layer onto that more baggage. It is now known that the social determinants of health (SDoH) play as important a role in a person’s health as genetics or medical treatment.

There are, broadly, six SDoH categories: economic stability, physical environment, education, food community and social content and health care systems.

Blacks are adversely affected in this arena. For example, with poorer housing we cannot generally socially isolate at home each in a different wing of the house; we may have six people in a two-bedroom apartment.

Searching for healthy food or using the bus to get to work (if you have a job and going to work), puts one at higher risk of acquiring the infection. Add the health risk factors above and we see a potential recipe for disaster.

Black-White wealth gap

I will separate one out the above noted SDoHs: economic stability, or lack thereof.

Quoting from a Brookings Institute study, “at $171,000, the net worth of a typical White family is nearly 10 times greater than that of a Black family in 2016.

Gaps in wealth between Black and White households reveal the effects of accumulated inequality and discrimination, as well as differences in power and opportunity that can be traced back to this nation’s inception.

Disproportionally affected

Democratic lawmakers noted an apparent lack of racial data that they say is needed to monitor and address disparities in the national response to the coronavirus outbreak.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, two lawmakers said comprehensive demographic data on people who are tested or treated for the virus that causes COVID-19 does not exist.

U.S. cities with large Black and Brown populations such as Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee and New Orleans have emerged as hot spots of the coronavirus outbreak.

“This lack of information will exacerbate existing health disparities and result in the loss of lives in vulnerable communities,” the letter warned.

Where does all of this leave us? With pneumonia.

Dr. Oliver Brooks is the president of the National Medical Association.

Bill Withers, soulful singer of ‘Lean on Me,’ dies at 81

Bill Withers, who wrote and sang a string of soulful songs in the 1970s that have stood the test of time, including “Lean on Me, ” “Lovely Day” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” has died from heart complications, his family said in a statement. He was 81.

The three-time Grammy Award winner, who withdrew from making music in the mid-1980s, died on Monday in Los Angeles, the statement said. His death comes as the public has drawn inspiration from his music during the coronavirus pandemic, with health care workers, choirs, artists and more posting their own renditions on “Lean on Me” to help get through the difficult times.

“We are devastated by the loss of our beloved, devoted husband and father. 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,” the family statement read. “We pray his music offers comfort and entertainment as fans hold tight to loved ones.”

Withers’ songs during his brief career have become the soundtracks of countless engagements, weddings and backyard parties. They have powerful melodies and perfect grooves melded with a smooth voice that conveys honesty and complex emotions without vocal acrobatics.

“Lean on Me,” a paean to friendship, was performed at the inaugurations of both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean on Me” are among Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

“He’s the last African American Everyman,” musician and band leader Questlove told Rolling Stone in 2015. “Bill Withers is the closest thing black people have to a Bruce Springsteen.”

His death caused a wave of appreciation on social media, including from former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, who said Withers’ music has been a cherished part of her life. Billy Dee Williams tweeted that “your music cheered my heart and soothed my soul.”

Withers, who overcame a childhood stutter, was born the last of six children in the coal mining town of Slab Fork, W. Va. After his parents divorced when he was 3, Withers was raised by his mother’s family in nearby Beckley.

He joined the Navy at 17 and spent nine years in the service as an aircraft mechanic installing toilets. After his discharge, he moved to Los Angeles, worked at an aircraft parts factory, bought a guitar at a pawn shop and recorded demos of his tunes in hopes of landing a recording contract.

Withers was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 by Stevie Wonder. “I’m not a virtuoso, but I was able to write songs that people could identify with,” Withers told Rolling Stone in 2015.

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

Mark Kennedy is an Associated Press writer.

The Best Livestreamed Events This Weekend

Thunderpussy, a foursome of fierce speed queens, will play live on YouTube on Saturday night as part of Nectar‘s virtual concert series. Meredith Truax

To state the obvious, COVID-19 forces us to redefine the concept of weekend entertainment—and weekends in general—as we maintain social distancing. But thanks to the ingenuity of artists, entertainers, and businesses in Seattle and around the world, there are tons of events happening live on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other platforms that will hopefully bring you some much-needed joie de vivre in this difficult time. We’ve rounded up the best local livestreamed events happening this weekend (plus a few notable national things), below—from remote Skagit Valley Tulip Festival resources to a timely conversation with bestselling author Chris Guillebeau, and from Wa Na Wari’s Virtual Birthday Dance Party to Annex Theatre’s post-apocalyptic Western One Horse Town. For even more options, check out our complete streaming events calendar.


Jump to: Friday | Saturday | Sunday


FRIDAY

COMEDY

Comedy for a Cause!
Join Mycole Brown and other local comics Vee Chattie, Cavin Eggleston, Jim Stewart Allen, Andy Iwancio, Cara Rosellini, and LLynn Marks for some laughs at home. They’ll be dishing out adult material, so if you have kids, give them a puzzle or something to do in another room.

Friday Night Comedy with Danielle Radford
Local writer and comic and frequent Screen Junkies and Fandom Entertainment contributor Danielle Radford will make you laugh from your couch. 

Inside Jokes Live Stream Show – Andrew Rivers & Cory Michaelis
Cory Michaelis (a Pacific Northwest regular who’s performed internationally, notably with Gad Elmaleh) and Andrew Rivers (a comedian who blends storytelling with personal anecdotes to deliver some truly funny sets) will host this Friday-night comedy extravaganza with special guests. (Tonight it’s Seattle International Comedy Competition winner Gabriel Rutledge, whom Dave Segal credits with “[finding] many quirky angles from which to squeeze distinctive humor out of everyday situations.”) 

Jet City Improv Presents: Comedy in Quarantine
Start your quarantined weekends on a note of levity with Jet City Improv’s weekly long-form comedy show on their YouTube channel.

FOOD & DRINK

Brewing Class with Watson’s Counter
The coffee experts at Watson’s Counter will host a Chemex troubleshooting session on IG Live. They’ll be using Anchorhead Coffee, which you can order for pickup at the restaurant if you like.

DRY Botanical Bubbly Virtual Happy Hour with Ryan Cassata
Trans artist and activist Ryan Cassata will host a happy hour (and mini-concert!) and Q&A with some DRY Botanical Bubbly in hand. Prepare your questions and tune in on Facebook.

GEEK

Virtual Event: #BurkeFromHome Trivia
Test your knowledge of natural history and culture for a virtual trivia night hosted by the beloved Burke Museum.

MUSIC

All4Doras AOL Livestream Variety Hour
Local boy band cover band All4Doras will set up on stage in an otherwise empty Central Cinema to perform choreographed dances and make good fun of NSYNC videos and MTV clips. There will also be a Q&A portion, so prepare your inquiries. (Maybe you’d like to know how to achieve frosted tips from home?) 

Frankie Cosmos
Frankie Cosmos “packs many punches full of raw power-chord pop and many sacks full of sagacious sap,” as Stranger contributor Zach Frimmel has written. The New York-based soft-pop band led by Greta Kline will play live on Instagram every Friday in April.

Interconnecting for Good
Escape into soothing string soundscapes with harpist Monica Schley and guitarist Danny Godinez on Facebook Live.

light in the attic & friends live
Local reissue label Light in the Attic will livestream performances by artists whose work they’ve put out over the years, including Devendra Banhart, Fred Armisen, Ben Gibbard, Julie Byrne, Inoyama Land, Gigi Masin, and many others. It’s free, but all donations will be given to MusiCares, an organization that provides relief to people in the music community affected by the coronavirus. 

Seattle Reggae Sessions #2 with Clinton Fearon & Naphtali Rashid
Jamaica-born, Seattle-based reggae legend Clinton Fearon (of the Boogie Brown Band) will take the virtual stage with Naphtali Rashid.

Sofa Festival
Warner Music France’s Sofa Festival is a good place to go for links to major national music livestreams, including Josh Groban and Barbara Carlotti (both tonight).

VISUAL ART

Virtual Bham Art Walk
Support Bellingham artists, galleries, and retailers who have been impacted by coronavirus closures by following the hashtag #virtualbhamartwalk on Instagram and Facebook. You’ll find prints, pottery, stickers, paintings, and other cool stuff to enjoy with your eyes and possibly to possess forever (lots of pieces will be available for purchase).

FRIDAY-SATURDAY

COMMUNITY

The Mountaineers Virtual Gala
Get gussied up in your home and browse the Mountaineers’ collection of online auction items, which are up for bidding during their weeklong virtual gala. You can prep by watching resident auctioneer Fred Northup Jr. walk you through his favorite items

FRIDAY-SUNDAY

COMMUNITY

Earth Day South Sound – A Month-long Virtual Celebration
Throughout April, Earth Day South Sound will invite residents in Tacoma, Seattle, and beyond to participate in daily activities that you can accomplish in your home, yard, or neighborhood that benefit the environment and “foster a connection with trees.”

Make A Joyful Noise!
This isn’t an event per se, and it doesn’t require a computer, but it’s cute. Wherever you are at 8 p.m. (on any day of the week), clap your hands and make some noise for Seattle’s healthcare workers, grocery store clerks, supply chain specialists, janitors, and others working tirelessly in this difficult time.

Neighborhood Window Walks – Scavenger Hunt
People across the country are posting artwork and cutouts in their windows and yards in a national effort to make walks more fun. The Phinney Neighborhood Association has come up with new themes for every week, including “Easter eggs.” Post pictures of your favorite houses in their Facebook discussion thread for others to see.

Virtual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival
The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is canceled this year, but the Washington Bulb Co., Roozen Gaarde, and Tulip Town—who, along with others in the Washington State flower industry, are taking a major financial hit from COVID-19—are bringing the fields of spring blooms to you in a small way by delivering fresh flowers (and merch) to your door. Tulip Town also launched the #ColorforCourage campaign, which allows for purchases of tulip bouquets to be delivered to hospitals, nursing homes, assisted care facilities, and other front-line workers. They also have some virtual tours of the fields on their Facebook page.

FILM

SPLIFF – Now Streaming!
A new vibe of stoner entertainment is emerging—witness the rise of Broad City, High Maintenance, and basically every TV show created on Viceland. And, most importantly, The Stranger presents SPLIFF, your new favorite film festival created by the stoned for the stoned. Because we can no longer congregate in person, we’re rescreening the 2019 festival online!

FOOD & DRINK

Google Hangout with Crucible Brewing
Stay social and socially distant by cracking open your current favorite beer and cueing up daily Google Hangout sessions with the Crucible Brewing staff. You might even make some new friends with whom to drink in-person in the future.

Mystery Night In
Mystery, the dating service for people who want to do fun and spontaneous things with their existing dates, is helping you and your partner(s) zhuzh up quarantined nights with a surprise activity and dinner for two (prepared by local chefs), delivered to your door. Proceeds will directly benefit “more than 10” local businesses.

MUSIC

Digital Mirage
Proceeds from this digital music festival presented by LA’s Proximity and Brownies & Lemonade will benefit the Sweet Relief Foundation, which provides support to musicians who are suffering from financial instability during the COVID-19 crisis.

Evan Flory-Barnes Presents: Cooped Up on the Couch Concert Series
Local bassist, singer, composer, and Stranger Genius Evan Flory-Barnes will perform live on Facebook and IGTV throughout the week for the foreseeable future. 

Live From Home with Ben Gibbard
Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard will play free live-streamed shows on his YouTube and Facebook pages every afternoon (!) until this nightmare is over. He’ll even bring on some special guests (digitally, of course).

Tomo Nakayama
The local multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Tomo Nakayama streams concerts on his Facebook page nearly every day. 

PERFORMANCE

One Horse Town
On a post-apocalyptic ranch, three queers defend the last horse on Earth—but when some starving fugitives show up, the ranchers, like the runaways, must “struggle to remember what makes them human in a world urging them to forget their compassion and their sanity.” You can see it streaming via Patreon. 

VISUAL ART

Jason and Trevor Hunt: Bloodlines
Brothers Trevor and Jason Hunt, who are “part of the famed Hunt family of Fort Rupert on Vancouver Island,” continues the legacy of the Kwagiulth artistic style (also known as Kwakwaka’wakw/Kwakiutl, a culture on the north side of Vancouver Island) through woodcarving and more. See this exhibition online.

Preston Singletary: Artifacts From A Future Dream
Tour renowned local glass artist Preston Singletary’s studio and his new exhibition, which the artist describes as “an homage to the future generations of Indigenous people,” at Traver Gallery via Vimeo.

SATURDAY

COMMUNITY

Harry Morgan: Tacoma’s First Crime Boss
Pioneer Square gets all the credit as the Northwest’s Prohibition-era hub of bootlegger activity, but this tour will shine a light on Harry Morgan, a notorious crime boss who dealt his deals in the South Sound. Pretty Gritty Tours will take you down Pacific Avenue (virtually), once known as Whiskey Row.

MUSIC

Abney Park QUARANTINED Live in Concert!
Tighten your bolts and join Seattle steampunk pioneers Abney Park for a livestreamed concert. 

Connectivation with Glitterfox
Support the Prison Scholar Fund by donating what you can spare and tuning into a live set from indie-folk band Glitterfox.

Earshot Jazz Live at The Forum: Marina Albero Group
Master pianist (not to mention vibraphone and psalterium player) Marina Albero will play live (online) with her group, composed of Hans Teuber, Evan Flory-Barnes, D’Vonne Lewis, Jeff Busch, and Jeff Johnson. 

Seattle Window Sing-Along: ‘My Favorite Things’
In times like these, singing about crisp apple strudels and schnitzel with noodles couldn’t hurt morale. Take five minutes to stick your head out of a window and belt out the popular tune “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. If enough people participate, you might hear a chorus of your neighbors singing along. 

Thunderpussy
Dave Segal has described Thunderpussy as “a foursome of fierce speed queens who are the rare Seattle rock group signed to a major label,” whose self-titled debut LP “revamps familiar classic-rock power moves and hard-rock hooks to put some led in your zeppelin and some depth in your purple.” Watch them live on YouTube.

READINGS & TALKS

Chris Guillebeau’s The Money Tree: Virtual Book Launch Event
Writer, speaker, and blogger Chris Guillebeau (best known for his 2010 book The Art of Non-Conformity, and author of many books that offer unexpected/unconventional career guidance) will share his latest work, The Money Tree, which contains timely pearls of wisdom for those concerned about financial instability, those working remotely for the first time, and “creators who wouldn’t normally read a how-to business book.” CreativeLive’s Chase Jarvis will join the author for a virtual conversation.

SPORTS & RECREATION

Sounders FC Classics
Relive epic Sounders FC games with re-broadcasts every Saturday on JOEtv. Tonight, see the 2013 Dempsey Home Debut vs. the Portland Timbers.

VISUAL ART

Corks and Canvas Event: ‘Bunny’
Get yourself an 11×14 canvas, acrylic paints (in red, blue, yellow, black, and white, and green), paint brushes (one flat-headed brush, one round brush, and one fine point brush), and your favorite adult beverage for this virtual bunny-painting class. The organizers recommend ordering your supplies from Michaels or another craft store offering curbside pickup.

SATURDAY-SUNDAY

MUSIC

You Had Me At Cello
Joshua Roman and four Seattle Symphony cellists will perform an array of works ranging from classical to modern.

SUNDAY

FOOD & DRINK

Edible Book Festival
On Sunday, you’ll be able to view (and vote for) tasty tomes on display online at this festival devoted to punny “books” made out of food and inspired by famous literary titles—past winners have included Donkey Oaties and A Pringle In Time. Until then, get to brainstorming and baking and submit photos of your creations.

MUSIC

Bach and Pancakes: Quarantine Edition
Make pancakes the way you like them and hear marimba player Erin Jorgensen play soothing Bach cello suites—today it’s Suite No. 3 in C Major—on Facebook.

FreeStream: FlammableEmergencyBroadcast04 – WesleyHolmes
The self-proclaimed “longest-running house music weekly” won’t stop on account of COVID-19. Tune in every Sunday on Twitch.tv for livestreams with DJs Wesley Holmes, Brian Lyons, Mich / Summit Dub, Dane Garfield Wilson, and special guests. 

Hollis Does Brunch
Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Hollis Wong-Wear, the lead vocalist of Seattle electro-R&B outfit the Flavr Blue, will cook up some Sunday brunch and perform songs from her new EP Half-Life. She’ll be virtually joined by local writer Ijeoma Oluo and musician Gabriel Teodros (raising money for the Seattle Artist Relief Fund), as well as DC-based Chef Erik Bruner-Yang (raising money for Maketto/Power of 10 Initiative) and Austin-based violinist Grace Youn. 

Little Sara Online Concerts
Couth Buzzard barista Sara Depp will play live streaming concerts every Sunday from her home to benefit the shop and its employees.

Sunday Sound Stream – Free Online Sound Bath Meditation
The folks at Harmony Ayurveda & Reiki Resonance Sound Healing credit sound bath meditations for their ability to “help clear old patterns of thinking and limiting beliefs while planting new seeds of intention for conscious growth, healing, and connection.” Sound good? Tune in to livestreamed sessions every Sunday night, starting this weekend.

PARTIES & NIGHTLIFE

Wa Na Wari Birthday (Virtual) Dance Party
The Central District house Wa Na Wari has been around for generations, but this month marks its first anniversary as a public black arts space. Get yourself a slice of cake and celebrate with a virtual dance party with DJ Vitamin D. Yirim Seck and Black Stax will perform live, and everybody will sing “Happy Birthday” together from their living rooms.

READINGS & TALKS

The Starship and the Canoe
Environmental author Kenneth Brower will read from his biography of science historian George Dyson, who began his storied career when as a high school dropout who ran away from home to live in a treehouse and study the construction of kayaks. Both Dyson and Brower will appear in a livestreamed conversation with Seattle journalist Kathy Cain. 

SPORTS & RECREATION

Virtual Daffodil 8K
Originally intended to take place at Puyallup’s daffodil-laden Van Lierop Park, this springtime run will go virtual. That means there won’t be any actual running involved, but that you can enter raffles to win two pairs of shoes from South Sound Running. 

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Early Data Shows African Americans Have Contracted and Died of Coronavirus at an Alarming Rate

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The coronavirus entered Milwaukee from a white, affluent suburb. Then it took root in the city’s black community and erupted.

As public health officials watched cases rise in March, too many in the community shrugged off warnings. Rumors and conspiracy theories proliferated on social media, pushing the bogus idea that black people are somehow immune to the disease. And much of the initial focus was on international travel, so those who knew no one returning from Asia or Europe were quick to dismiss the risk.

Then, when the shelter-in-place order came, there was a natural pushback among those who recalled other painful government restrictions — including segregation and mass incarceration — on where black people could walk and gather.

“We’re like, ‘We have to wake people up,’” said Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik.

As the disease spread at a higher rate in the black community, it made an even deeper cut. Environmental, economic and political factors have compounded for generations, putting black people at higher risk of chronic conditions that leave lungs weak and immune systems vulnerable: asthma, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. In Milwaukee, simply being black means your life expectancy is 14 years shorter, on average, than someone white.

As of Friday morning, African Americans made up almost half of Milwaukee County’s 945 cases and 81% of its 27 deaths in a county whose population is 26% black. Milwaukee is one of the few places in the United States that is tracking the racial breakdown of people who have been infected by the novel coronavirus, offering a glimpse at the disproportionate destruction it is inflicting on black communities nationwide.

In Michigan, where the state’s population is 14% black, African Americans made up 35% of cases and 40% of deaths as of Friday morning. Detroit, where a majority of residents are black, has emerged as a hot spot with a high death toll. As has New Orleans. Louisiana has not published case breakdowns by race, but 40% of the state’s deaths have happened in Orleans Parish, where the majority of residents are black.

Illinois and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina — where Charlotte is — are two of the few areas publishing statistics on COVID-19 cases by race, and their data shows a disproportionate number of African Americans were infected. Neither of those governments has published breakdowns of deaths by race.

“It will be unimaginable pretty soon,” said Dr. Celia J. Maxwell, an infectious disease physician and associate dean at Howard University College of Medicine, a school and hospital in Washington dedicated to the education and care of the black community. “And anything that comes around is going to be worse in our patients. Period. Many of our patients have so many problems, but this is kind of like the nail in the coffin.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks virulent outbreaks and typically releases detailed data that includes information about the age, race and location of the people affected. For the coronavirus pandemic, the CDC has released location and age data, but it has been silent on race. The CDC did not respond to ProPublica’s request for race data related to the coronavirus or answer questions about whether they were collecting it at all.

Experts say that the nation’s unwillingness to publicly track the virus by race could obscure a crucial underlying reality: It’s quite likely that a disproportionate number of those who die of coronavirus will be black.

The reasons for this are the same reasons that African Americans have disproportionately high rates of maternal death, low levels of access to medical care and higher rates of asthma, said Dr. Camara Jones, a family physician, epidemiologist and visiting fellow at Harvard University.

“COVID is just unmasking the deep disinvestment in our communities, the historical injustices and the impact of residential segregation,” said Jones, who spent 13 years at the CDC, focused on identifying, measuring and addressing racial bias within the medical system. “This is the time to name racism as the cause of all of those things. The overrepresentation of people of color in poverty and white people in wealth is not just a happenstance. … It’s because we’re not valued.”

Five congressional Democrats wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, whose department encompasses the CDC, last week demanding the federal government collect and release the breakdown of coronavirus cases by race and ethnicity.

Without demographic data, the members of Congress wrote, health officials and lawmakers won’t be able to address inequities in health outcomes and testing that may emerge: “We urge you not to delay collecting this vital information, and to take any additional necessary steps to ensure that all Americans have the access they need to COVID-19 testing and treatment.”

The city’s health officials have tried to take a purposeful approach to communicate information. (Darren Hauck for ProPublica)

Milwaukee, one of the few places already tracking coronavirus cases and deaths by race, provides an early indication of what would surface nationally if the federal government actually did this, or locally if other cities and states took its lead.

Milwaukee, both the city and county, passed resolutions last summer that were seen as important steps in addressing decades of race-based inequality.

“We declared racism as a public health issue,” said Kowalik, the city’s health commissioner. “It frames not only how we do our work but how transparent we are about how things are going. It impacts how we manage an outbreak.”

Milwaukee is trying to be purposeful in how it communicates information about the best way to slow the pandemic. It is addressing economic and logistical roadblocks that stand in the way of safety. And it’s being transparent about who is infected, who is dying and how the virus spread in the first place.

Kowalik described watching the virus spread into the city, without enough information, because of limited testing, to be able to take early action to contain it.

At the beginning of March, Wisconsin had one case. State public health officials still considered the risk from the coronavirus “low.” Testing criteria was extremely strict, as it was in many places across the country: You had to have symptoms and have traveled to China, Iran, South Korea or Italy within 14 days or have had contact with someone who had a confirmed case of COVID-19.

So, she said, she waited, wondering: “When are we going to be able to test for this to see if it is in our community?”

About two weeks later, Milwaukee had its first case.

The city’s patient zero had been in contact with a person from a neighboring, predominately white and affluent suburb who had tested positive. Given how much commuting occurs in and out of Milwaukee, with some making a 180-mile round trip to Chicago, Kowalik said she knew it would only be a matter of time before the virus spread into the city.

A day later came the city’s second case, someone who contracted the virus while in Atlanta. Kowalik said she started questioning the rigidness of the testing guidelines. Why didn’t they include domestic travel?

By the fourth case, she said, “we determined community spread. … It happened so quickly.”

Within the span of a week, Milwaukee went from having one case to nearly 40. Most of the sick people were middle-aged, African American men. By week two, the city had over 350 cases. And now, there are more than 945 cases countywide, with the bulk in the city of Milwaukee, where the population is 39% black. People of all ages have contracted the virus and about half are African American.

Milwaukee offers a glimpse into the disproportionate destruction the virus is inflicting on black communities nationwide. (Darren Hauck for ProPublica)

The county’s online dashboard of coronavirus cases keeps up-to-date information on the racial breakdown of those who have tested positive. As of Thursday morning, 19 people had died of illness related to COVID-19 in Milwaukee County. All but four were black, according to the county medical examiner’s office. Records show that at least 11 of the deceased had diabetes, eight had hypertension and 15 had a mixture of chronic health conditions that included heart and lung disease.

Because of discrimination and generational income inequality, black households in the county earned only 50% as much as white ones in 2018, according to census statistics. Black people are far less likely to own homes than white people in Milwaukee and far more likely to rent, putting black renters at the mercy of landlords who can kick them out if they can’t pay during an economic crisis, at the same time as people are being told to stay home. And when it comes to health insurance, black people are more likely to be uninsured than their white counterparts.

African Americans have gravitated to jobs in sectors viewed as reliable paths to the middle class — health care, transportation, government, food supply — which are now deemed “essential,” rendering them unable to stay home. In places like New York City, the virus’ epicenter, black people are among the only ones still riding the subway.

“And let’s be clear, this is not because people want to live in those conditions,” said Gordon Francis Goodwin, who works for Government Alliance on Race and Equity, a national racial equity organization that worked with Milwaukee on its health and equity framework. “This is a matter of taking a look at how our history kept people from actually being fully included.”

Fred Royal, head of the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP, knows three people who have died from the virus, including 69-year-old Lenard Wells, a former Milwaukee police lieutenant and a mentor to others in the black community. Royal’s 38-year-old cousin died from the virus last week in Atlanta. His body was returned home Tuesday.

Royal is hearing that people aren’t necessarily being hospitalized but are being sent home instead and “told to self-medicate.”

“What is alarming about that,” he said, “is that a number of those individuals were sent home with symptoms and died before the confirmation of their test came back.”

Royal has spent the past days coordinating with front-line community groups trying to make sure residents have what they need in order to stay inside. (Darren Hauck for ProPublica)

Health Commissioner Kowalik said that there have been delays of up to two weeks in getting results back from some private labs, but nearly all of those who died have done so at hospitals or while in hospice. Still, Kowalik said she understood why some members in the black community distrusted the care they might receive in a hospital.

In January, a 25-year-old day care teacher named Tashonna Ward died after staff at Froedtert Hospital failed to check her vital signs. Federal officials examined 20 patient records and found seven patients, including Ward, didn’t receive proper care. The report didn’t reveal the race of those whose records it examined at the hospital, which predominantly serves black patients. Froedtert Hospital declined to speak to issues raised in the report, according to a February article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and it had not submitted any corrective actions to federal officials.

“What black folks are accustomed to in Milwaukee and anywhere in the country, really, is pain not being acknowledged and constant inequities that happen in health care delivery,” Kowalik said.

The health commissioner herself, a black woman who grew up in Milwaukee, said she’s all too familiar with the city’s enduring struggles with segregation and racism. Her mother is black and her father Polish, and she remembers the stories they shared about trying to buy a house as a young interracial couple in Sherman Park, a neighborhood once off-limits to blacks.

“My father couldn’t get a mortgage for the house. He had to go to the bank without my mom,” Kowalik said.

It is the same neighborhood where fury and frustration sparked protests that, at times, roiled into riots in 2016 when a Milwaukee police officer fatally shot Sylville Smith, a 23-year-old black man.

And it is the same neighborhood that has a concentration of poor health outcomes when you overlay a heat map of conditions, be it lead poisoning, infant mortality — and now, she said, COVID-19.

Knowing which communities are most impacted allows public health officials to tailor their messaging to overcome the distrust of black residents.

“We’ve been told so much misinformation over the years about the condition of our community,” Royal, of the NAACP, said. “I believe a lot of people don’t trust what the government says.”

Kowalik has met — virtually — with trusted and influential community leaders to discuss outreach efforts to ensure everyone is on the same page about the importance of staying home and keeping 6 feet away from others if they must go out.

Police and inspectors are responding to complaints received about “noncompliant” businesses forcing staff to come to work or not practicing social distancing in the workplace. Violators could face fines.

“Who are we getting these complaints from?” she asked. “Many people of color.”

Residents have been urged to call 211 if they need help with anything from finding something to eat or a place to stay. And the state has set up two voluntary isolation facilities for people with COVID-19 symptoms whose living situations are untenable, including a Super 8 motel in Milwaukee.

Despite the work being done in Milwaukee, experts like Linda Sprague Martinez, a community health researcher at Boston University’s School of Social Work, worry that the government is not paying close enough attention to race, and as the disease spreads, will do too little to blunt its toll.

“When COVID-19 passes and we see the losses … it will be deeply tied to the story of post-World War II policies that left communities marginalized,” Sprague said. “Its impact is going to be tied to our history and legacy of racial inequities. It’s going to be tied to the fact that we live in two very different worlds.”

Doris Burke and Hannah Fresques contributed reporting.


COVID-19 Deaths Concentrated In Milwaukee’s African American Community

As Wisconsin’s COVID-19 death toll continues to rise, Milwaukee’s African American community has been hit particularly hard. Of the state’s 14 people who have died after contracting coronavirus, eight of them were African Americans living on the city’s northwest side, and Milwaukee appears to be the only city in the country where this is happening.

On Friday, Gov. Tony Evers called the deaths in Milwaukee “a crisis within a crisis.”

Milwaukee health officials say they are still gathering and analyzing the data to figure out why this community has been hit hardest by the virus. But in the meantime, city and county health departments have rolled out public health campaigns to Milwaukee’s African American community.

As of Friday, Milwaukee County had 468 positive COVID-19 cases, according to Milwaukee County’s COVID-19 dashboard. Wisconsin had positive 842 cases as of Friday afternoon, according to health officials.

Milwaukee County Supervisor Felesia Martin represents the city’s northwest side. She said even if people are just talking to their neighbors, they need to do their part to encourage social distancing.

Martin said she believes she has more than 30 COVID-19 cases in her district.

“Is it a part of lack of communication … our not touching all forms of media? Or are people not understanding how serious this virus is?” Martin said. “And of course with our president saying it’s not serious, it’s a hoax, are people still holding onto that thought?”

Dr. John Raymond, president and CEO of the Medical College of Wisconsin, said it’s a surprise so many people in Milwaukee’s African American community have been affected because there have not been reports from other cities of there being hot zones starting in other black communities.

“What I want to emphasize about this virus is everybody is potentially an individual that can be affected: young, old, children, black, white, Latino, all of us,” Raymond said. “If there are issues with the early cases being in the African American community, we don’t know why, but I think a lot of people are working very hard to find out what the root cause is.”

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Raymond said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is in Milwaukee to study why more African Americans have contracted the new coronavirus. He also said it would be speculative to say the COVID-19 cases have anything to do with the occurrence of comorbidities among African American community.

“I would say though that there is a potential that some of the neighborhoods are less connected to receiving good information as to practicing social distancing, or physical distancing,” Raymond said. “We need to make sure everybody, especially those in under-resourced communities, know about the danger of this virus.

The Milwaukee Health Department has created a series of public service announcement videos with the goal of providing information and guidance related to the new coronavirus.

Commissioner of Health Jeanette Kowalik said she has received several reports that people are violating the city and state’s “safer-at-home” orders, but before she begins enforcement, she wants to make sure everyone is aware of the rules.

“While we are still gathering and analyzing all of the data, it is clear at this point that the communities being hit the hardest by this virus are those where there is a high density of African American residents,” Kowalik said. “African Americans in Milwaukee also face other socioeconomic challenges that can impact a person’s health. We must remember now and in the future that public health goes beyond just diagnosis and treatment and should be considered more holistically.”

African Americans in Milwaukee are not being tested at a higher rate that other races, Kowalik said.

Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services for the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management, said while the map shows more cases of COVID-19 on Milwaukee’s north side, the virus is in all communities.

“Those blue dots in every municipality will grow before they shrink,” Weston said. “Throughout history and today, underserved populations often see an undue burden of disease. This is due to a lack of resources, jobs that don’t accommodate telecommuting, inherent challenges with social distancing and many other factors.”

Weston said clustered cases like this can lead to accusations and discrimination. But it should not.

“Make no mistake, COVID-19 is in all communities in Milwaukee County, and it has and will continue to affect us,” Weston said.

Whitmer tells people with virus symptoms to stay home

Updated 12:25 pm PDT, Friday, April 3, 2020

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Friday that people with principal symptoms of the disease caused by the new coronavirus — a fever, atypical cough or unusual shortness of breath — should stay home for a minimum of three days after the symptoms resolve.

Her order came hours before the state hit hard by COVID-19 reported nearly 2,000 new infections, the largest single-day increase, and 62 additional deaths. Michigan had more than 12,700 confirmed cases and 479 deaths as of Friday.

THE LATEST:

The order applies to all residents who test positive or have at least one of the three main symptoms. They can leave for medical care and — if delivery is not an option — food, medicine and other life-sustaining supplies as long as they wear a homemade mask or other face covering. Outdoor exercise also is allowed.

People should stay home until three days after their symptoms go away and until seven days since they first appeared.

Others who have had close contact with infected individuals or those displaying symptoms should remain home for 14 days since the last contact or the symptomatic person tests negative.

The order prohibits employers from firing or retaliating against employees if they or one of their close contacts have the disease or symptoms. They are required to instead treat them as if they are taking medical leave.

DETROIT CASES:

Most of Michigan’s confirmed COVID-19 cases are in the Detroit area, with 80% in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. The city had more than 3,500 cases and 116 deaths.

Detroit is about 80% black, and African Americans make up 35% of cases statewide and 40% of deaths. The race in 34% of cases and 28% of deaths is listed as unknown.

OVENS:

Commercial ovens can be used to resterilize N95 masks worn to protect against the virus, according to researchers. The method could help guard against shortages of the masks which are sought by health care workers and first responders, the Lansing State Journal reported.

A team from Michigan State University met last week with officials at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing to find out if the school could sanitize or decontaminate protective equipment.

They developed a process that uses forced, heated air in commercial ovens to decontaminate the respirator masks, MSU Extension Director Jeff Dwyer said.

The process is expected to soon be used to sterilize masks for doctors and nurses.

N95 respirator reuse is often referred to as “limited reuse,” according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Limited reuse has been recommended and widely used as an option for conserving respirators during previous respiratory pathogen outbreaks and pandemics, the CDC said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are among those particularly susceptible to more severe illness, including pneumonia.

___

Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Legendary soul singer Bill Withers has died at 81 of heart complications

Bill Withers on the red carpetBill Withers on the red carpet
Bill Withers died on Monday in Los Angeles of heart complications. Pic credit: ©ImageCollect/Globe-Photos

Soul singer Bill Withers who wrote hit tunes Lean on Me, Ain’t No Sunshine, and Lovely Day, has died according to a statement from his family.

The 81-year-old reportedly died from heart complications on Monday in Los Angeles.

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

The statement continued: “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.”

Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time features both Ain’t No Sunshine and Lean On Me.

Barack Obama and Bill Clinton both played Lean On Me at their inaugurations.

Bill Withers stopped music-making in the mid-1980s

Withers had a relatively brief career, having turned away from music-making in the mid-1980s; however, his impact was enormous.

His songs with their powerful melodies and perfect grooves became the soundtrack to so many engagements, weddings, and backyard parties.

His songs feature in lots of movies, including The Hangover, American Beauty, Flight, and Jerry Maguire, among others.

He won two Grammys as a songwriter for “Ain’t No Sunshine” in 1971 and for “Just The Two Of Us” in 1981.

In 1987, Bill received his ninth Grammy nomination and third Grammy as a songwriter for the re-recording of his 1972 hit Lean On Me by Club Nouveau.

In 2015, musician and bandleader Questlove told Rolling Stone, “He’s the last African-American Everyman, “Bill Withers is the closest thing black people have to a Bruce Springsteen.”

Tributes roll in for Bill Withers

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer of Hamilton, was one of the first to post a tribute to Twitter.

“Rest In Peace, maestro Bill Withers. What a legacy.” he wrote.

Another Twitter user called him “one of the greatest songwriters and musicians to ever do it.”

Karine Jean-Pierre wrote, “Thank you for always putting a smile on our faces with your music. Rest In Power.”

Born William Harrison Withers Jr in 1938, he grew up in a tough mining town in West Virginia. The hymns and gospel music of his childhood would later heavily influence his music.

He joined the navy at just 17-years-old, and he spent nine years in the service. He first signed with Sussex Records before moving on to Columbia Records.

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.

It’s been reported that health care workers have been posting their own renditions of Lean On Me to help get them through these current difficult times.

Withers is survived by his wife, Marcia, and children, Todd and Kori. Rest in peace.

The world of jazz also lost an icon last week when Manu Dibango died in France after contracting coronavirus. The saxophone legend was 86-years-old when he passed away on Tuesday, March 24.

And the acting world also lost a legend recently in Kirk Douglas, who passed away last February at 103-years-old.

Bill Withers, soul singer behind Lean on Me, dead at 81

Bill Withers, who wrote and sang a string of soulful songs in the 1970s that have stood the test of time, including Lean On Me, Lovely Day and Ain’t No Sunshine, has died from heart complications, his family said in a statement to The Associated Press. He was 81.

The three-time Grammy Award winner, who withdrew from making music in the mid-1980s, died on Monday in Los Angeles, the statement said.

His death comes as the public has drawn inspiration from his music during the coronavirus pandemic, with health-care workers, choirs, artists and more posting their own renditions of Lean on Me to help them get through difficult times.

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

“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.”

A host of singers and musicians penned tributes online after learning of his death.

Soundtrack to people’s lives

Withers’s songs have become the soundtracks of countless engagements, weddings and backyard parties. They have powerful melodies and perfect grooves melded with a smooth voice that conveys honesty and complex emotions without vocal acrobatics.

Lean On Me, a paean to friendship, reached No 1. on the Billboard charts in 1972 and was performed at the inaugurations of both U.S. presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Ain’t No Sunshine and Lean on Me placed among Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

“He’s the last African-American everyman, musician and band leader,” Roots drummer Questlove told Rolling Stone in 2015. “Bill Withers is the closest thing black people have to a Bruce Springsteen.”

Withers is shown performing with John Legend during his 2015 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

Withers, who overcame a childhood stutter, was born the last of six children in the coal mining town of Slab Fork, W. Va. After his parents divorced when he was three, Withers was raised by his mother’s family in nearby Beckley.

He joined the Navy at 17 and spent nine years in the service as an aircraft mechanic installing toilets. After his discharge, he moved to Los Angeles, worked at an aircraft parts factory, bought a guitar at a pawn shop and recorded demos of his tunes in hopes of landing a recording contract.

At his peak in 1970s

In 1971, signed to Sussex Records, Withers put out his first album, Just As I Am, with legendary Stax Records musician Booker T. Jones at the helm. the album had the hits Grandma’s Hands and Ain’t No Sunshine, which was inspired by the Jack Lemmon film Days of Wine and Roses. Withers was photographed on the cover, smiling and holding his lunch pail.

Ain’t No Sunshine was originally released as the B-side of his debut single, Harlem. But radio DJs flipped the disc and the song climbed to No. 3 on the Billboard charts and spent a total of 16 weeks in the top 40.

Withers went on to generate more hits a year later with the inspirational Lean On Me, Who Is He (and What Is He to You) and Use Me on his second album, Still Bill.

Later would come the striking Lovely Day, co-written with Skip Scarborough, which features Withers holding the word “day” for almost 19 seconds. 

“The hardest thing in songwriting is to be simple and yet profound. And Bill seemed to understand, intrinsically and instinctively, how to do that,” Sting said in Still Bill, a 2010 documentary about Withers.

Recent rock Hall of Fame induction

Withers’ career changed when Sussex Records went bankrupt and he was scooped up by Columbia Records. He no longer had complete control over his music and chafed when it was suggested he do an Elvis cover. His new executives found Withers difficult.

None of his Columbia albums reached the Top 40, except for 1977’s Menagerie, which produced Lovely Day. His hit duet with sax man Grover Washington Jr., Just the Two of Us, was on Washington’s label. Withers’s last album was 1985’s Watching You Watching Me.

Though his songs often dealt with relationships, Withers also wrote ones with social commentary, including Better Off Dead, about an alcoholic’s suicide, and I Can’t Write Left-Handed, about an injured Vietnam War veteran.

He was awarded Grammys as a songwriter for Ain’t No Sunshine in 1971 and for Just the Two Of Us in 1981. His third Grammy win came as a songwriter, after Club Nouveau took their cover of Lean On Me to the top of the Billboard song chart in 1987.

Withers was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 by Stevie Wonder. Withers thanked his wife as well as the R&B pioneers who helped his career, like Ray Jackson, Al Bell and Booker T. Jones. He also got in a few jabs at the record industry, saying A&R stood for “antagonistic and redundant.”

His music has been sampled and covered by such artists as Will Smith, BlackStreet, Twista and the Black Eyed Peas. 

“I’m not a virtuoso, but I was able to write songs that people could identify with. I don’t think I’ve done bad for a guy from Slab Fork, West Virginia,” Withers told Rolling Stone in 2015.

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