Bill Withers: Another West Virginia Treasure

Photo is a screen shot  of a video of Bill Withers at his induction into the 2015 class of the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, with Stevie Wonder.

Susan Haggerty sang her a capella version of the Bill Withers classic, "Grandma's Hands" last night at the BAM Jam in Blackburg (which I got to attend thanks to an invitation from Doug Chancy, who plays with his wife Betty Hahn and with Jamie Munn Simmons and Simone Patterson in Smart Mouth.) 

Editor's note:  I first published this piece on December 19, 2015 at 4:35 pm  and last edited it on January 15, 2016 to include the painting illustrating "Grandma's Hands" and links to the Withers bio at the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame and to the West Virginia Coal Towns entry on his hometown of Slab Fork, as well as tags.


If you don't recognize Bill Withers's name, surely, you will recognize his songs which, in addition to his 1971 hit "Grandma's Hands", include Grammy winner "Ain't No Sunshine," "Just the Two of Us," "I Wish You Well" and "Lean on Me."

Although it took until 2015 for the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame to recognize Withers, his native West Virginia recognized him, along with the likes of Hazel Dickens, in 2007, the inaugural year of its own Music Hall of Fame.    The Ernie Barnes painting which Withers commissioned to illustrate "Grandma's Hands"  in 2008, was Barnes's last major commission before he died in 2009.  It is part of the Hall's permanent collection.

Born in the Raleigh County coal town of  Slab Fork, Withers left to join the Navy before moving to California to work in an airplane factory and starting his musical career.
Withers stepped away from the industry in 1985, as he explained in this interview with Allison Glock, when

this guy at my record label who wanted me to do stuff like cover Elvis Presley songs . Get the hell out of here. I got tired of it. Most of my dreams came true and some of my nightmares, too. I had a pretty good run. And by then I had a family and some kids, so I went about trying to do a good job at that. Without even thinking about it, I just went ahead with my life.

Here is an extended bio from the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame where Withers describes growing up in West Virginia and his career.

Here's an interview with Withers about his induction from West Virginia Public Radio that year:

You can find Carl Wiser's 2004 interview, in which Withers talks about the inspiration for some of his lyrics in Song Facts.