BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — Music legend and West Virginia native Bill Withers died of heart complications, according to a statement his family provided on Friday, April 3, 2020 to the Associated Press. His timeless songs like “Lean on Me” still uplift and inspire people today.
His music stood the test of time. Bill Withers wrote and sang a string of soulful songs in the 1970s including “Lovely Day,” ‘Ain’t No Sunshine,” and “Lean on Me.”
The 81-year-old died in Los Angeles on Friday, but his story began in Raleigh County. He was born on the fourth of July in Slab Fork, a small coal-mining town at the time. His childhood friend, C.V. Thompson said Bill Withers went by a different name.
“We didn’t call him Bill Withers, we called him Lil’ Brother,” Thompson said.
Withers was raised in nearby Beckley, across the street from Thompson.
“He was like my brother, his mother, Maddie and all of them… Mrs. Galloway.. We literally grew up together just like you did with your friends.. Right across the street from each other,” said Thompson.
Thompson and Withers attended Stratton High School in Beckley in the 1950s when it was segregated. After high school, Thompson went into the Army, and Withers joined the Navy.
“After he went to service and came back he started to write,” said Thompson.
Thompson said he last saw Withers a year ago. He said no matter how successful Withers became, every time they got together they were just old school mates.
“I didn’t think of him as a big time entertainer, we just thought of each other as friends,” Thompson said.
“Lean on Me” is inspired by the community where he grew up in Beckley and Slab Fork.
“When you hear something like that .. Lean on Me… you think about your youth. That’s what it makes you think about is your youth,” said Thompson.
Many still turn to his music to get them through hard times, songs that will live on in his community and beyond.