Associated Press shared the family’s statement: “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.”
“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.”
After a prolific decade of recording music throughout the 1970s, his songs remain a major influence on R&B despite making the decision to step away from the public and stop recording in 1985. One such track, 1972 effort ‘Lean On Me’, is widely regarded as one of the greatest songs of all time.
Withers, who wrote and recorded the track in the early 1970s, released it as the first single from his second album, Still Bill, and it propelled him to critical and commercial success. Reflecting on the song later in his life, the musician explained that his childhood and being raised in the coal mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia, was the direct inspiration.
Feeling homesick after moving to Los Angeles, Withers reflected on his youth living in poverty and, more importantly, remembered the strong community ethic of his hometown. “I bought a little piano and I was sitting there just running my fingers up and down the piano,” he once said. “In the course of doing the music, that phrase crossed my mind, so then you go back and say, ‘OK, I like the way that phrase, Lean On Me, sounds with this song.'”
With additional contributions from guitarist Benorce Blackmon, pianist Raymond Jackson, bass player Melvin Dunlap and drummer James Gadson, Withers delivered a mind-blowing example of his vocal range. Below, listen to the full extent of his brilliance.