Withers was born on the Fourth of July, 1938. He was the youngest of six children.
He spent nine years in the Navy, where he had speech therapy to overcome his stuttering. After his release from the Navy, he wrote songs as he delivered milk, worked for the Ford Motor Company, and then worked for IBM.
After he moved to LA in 1967, he worked for $3.50 per hour at Lockheed Aircraft and spent $2500 for demos... No record companies were interested.
He was making toilet seats for Boeing 747's in 1970 when he was introduced to Booker T. Jones (Booker T and the MG's), who subsequently produced Withers' first LP, Just As I Am, with Stephen Stills on lead guitar. The album cover is a photo of Withers at the factory where he worked - he's holding his lunch pail.
His first single, "Ain't No Sunshine" peaked at #3 in the US and won a Grammy award for Best Rhythm and Blues Song (1972). After "Grandma's Hands" stalled at #42, Sussex Records released his second LP, Still Bill, from which he had the two biggest hits of his career, the #1 "Lean on Me" and the #2 "Use Me." The former was composed in the late '60s while he was working at Lockheed Aircraft. A live LP yielded a mid-size hit, #31 "Kissing My Love," in 1973.
In the mid-1970's he changed labels (to Columbia) after a legal dispute with Sussex Records. When Sussex folded, Columbia bought all the rights to Withers' material. His only Top 40 hit for Columbia was "Lovely Day," which hit US #30 in 1977.
He wrote and provided vocal for Grover Washington Jr's #2 "Just the Two of Us" in 1981.
In 2015, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with Stevie Wonder giving the induction speech.