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For some people, fame and recognition are the unwelcome byproducts of their talent. They may excel in an area that brings them recognition, but they don’t take to it as well as others do.

Such is the case with R&B singer/songwriter Bill Withers.

His music is the soundtrack to your favorite memories. Songs like “Grandma’s Hands,” “Lovely Day” and “Ain’t No Sunshine” aren’t just classics; they are timeless moments of life captured in three minutes. Withers, the author of these songs, now 72, is profiled in the 2009 documentary “Still Bill,” now out on DVD or available for download.

What makes a documentary about a musician now well past his musical prime who hasn’t recorded new music in over 30 years compelling? It’s the portrait of a man whose gifts sat uneasy on him, despite his enormous success.

A native of West Virginia, Withers became a star when he was already well into his 30s, recording demo tapes while still employed as an assembler in the aircraft industry. His first hit? “Ain’t No Sunshine” in 1971 – a song he didn’t initially believe in. (Withers continued working with the aircraft company for some time after the songs’ release.) “Ain’t No Sunshine” would not only earn him a Grammy and sell over one million copies; it became one of the rare records that defied genre to become a recognized American standard.  It has been recorded by over 100 artists from all over the musical spectrum, including Latin singer Jose Feliciano, Michael Jackson, The Temptations, rockers Jeff Beck and  Joe Cocker, country singer Wynonna Judd and many more. 

Withers followed up his initial success with other songs that became part of the American songbook – from “Lovely Day” to “Lean on Me” to “Just the Two of Us.” “Lean on Me” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Withers, a three-time Grammy winner, was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005.


Despite the enduring songs and numerous accolades he received through his short-lived career, Withers remained unimpressed with his own success. “Still Bill” reveals that the former stutterer, who came to fame late in life, simply had his fill of the music business and retired to be a full-time husband, friend and father. It shows more of Withers as a man than as a musician, going along with him to a high school reunion that takes place on his 70th  birthday, as well as an appearance at a school for children with speech problems.

The married father of two grown children, Withers lives a quiet life with his wife in Southern California. He is humble and unassuming about his career and his towering talent, which his offspring inherited. One of the more poignant scenes in the documentary is Withers in his home studio, singing along with his daughter Kori, who has a stunningly beautiful voice of her own.


As a portrait of a musician who struggles with the fame that his gifts have brought him, “Still Bill” is a remarkable effort. While it gives the viewer a look at Withers’ 70’s musical heyday, it’s much more the portrait of a simple man who eschewed the limelight, instead preferring a simple life. Many artists profess that family is their true joy while spending over 300 days a year on the road and recording. Withers is that rare artist who actually lived that choice and feels little regret about it. He is proud of his accomplishments, but has no interest in trading on them for any more time in the spotlight.

While former band members talk wistfully about Withers’ return to active performing …..