We kick off our celebration of Black Music Month with a spotlight on Bill Withers and his debut album “Just As I Am.” Released in 1971, the album was Withers’ first major label release and featured some of his most iconic songs such as “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and “Grandma’s Hands.” This collection of music is an important piece of American history that has stood the test of time.
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Bill Withers grew up in Slab Fork, West Virginia where he spent much of his childhood listening to gospel music in church. His parents divorced when he was three years old which made for a difficult childhood. After high school graduation, he joined the Navy before moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music. He worked at Boeing Aircraft while playing local clubs at night until signed by Sussex Records who released “Just As I Am” in 1971 just prior to their bankruptcy filing later that year.
The success of this album came quickly due to its powerful lyrics about faith, love, and loss coupled with soulful melodies inspired by gospel roots. “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Grandma’s Hands” and “Lean On Me” are still popular today and have become staples of American music history.
Bill Withers has been acknowledged as both a musical genius and a humanitarian. His songs speak to the human condition while addressing important social issues such as AIDS, drug addiction, poverty, and discrimination. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 for his lasting influence on popular music. Bill Withers’ debut album “Just As I Am” is an essential part of Black Music.
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