Bill Withers, the acclaimed 1970s soul singer behind hits Ain’t No Sunshine and Lean On Me has died from heart complications aged 81, his family said.
The singer died on Monday in Los Angeles, the family told the Associated Press.
They described him in a statement as a “solitary man with a heart driven to connect to the world”.
“He spoke honestly to people and connected them to each other,” the statement said.
Known for his smooth baritone vocals and sumptuous soul arrangements, he wrote some of the 70s best-remembered songs, including Just The Two Of Us, Lovely Day and Use Me.
On Lovely Day, he set the record for the longest sustained note on a US chart hit, holding a high E for 18 seconds.
Although he stopped recording in 1985, his songs remained a major influence on R&B and hip-hop.
His track Grandma’s Hands was sampled on Blackstreet’s No Diggity, and Eminem reinterpreted Just The Two Of Us on his hit 1997 Bonnie And Clyde.
Lean On Me has recently become associated with the Coronavirus pandemic, with many people posting their own versions to support health workers.
“We are devastated by the loss of our beloved, devoted husband and father,” said Withers’ family in a statement.
“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.”
US musician Chance the Rapper led tributes, describing the singer as “the greatest” and recalling some of his own personal memories.
Rock star and actor Lenny Kravitz posted that his “voice, songs, and total expression gave us love, hope, and strength”.
Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson said he was “very sad to hear about Bill Withers passing” – calling him “a songwriter’s songwriter” – while John Legend added that “life wouldn’t be the same without him” and his music.
And BBC Radio 2’s Trevor Nelson wrote the star’s music was “a remedy for these nonsensical times”.
“He was a genius singer/songwriter. Can’t listen to Bill without feeling emotional.”
Born in 1938, Withers was the youngest of six children. His father died when he was a child and he was raised by his mother and grandmother.
His entry to the music world came late – at the age of 29 – after a nine-year stint in the Navy
He taught himself to play guitar between shifts at his job making toilet seats for the Boeing aircraft company, and used his wages to pay for studio sessions in LA.
“I figured out that you didn’t need to be a virtuoso to accompany yourself,” he told Rolling Stone magazine in 2015.
He recorded his first album, Just As I Am, with Booker T Jones in 1970. It included the mournful ballad Ain’t No Sunshine, which earned him his first Grammy award the subsequent year.