Bill Withers tribute program

Bill Withers is the MAN!

I see a CBS This Morning Saturday interview with reclusive soul singer Bill Withers. A tribute concert celebrating his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is mere days away. The show benefits the Stuttering Association for the Young (SAY) and features Ed Sheeran, Aloe Blacc, Michael McDonald, Jonathan Butler, Branford Marsalis, among others. Dumbfounded by the caliber of talent, I quickly buy a ticket and travel in pre-tropical storm Joaquin rain to New York City on October 1.

My seat is on the very last row of the auditorium. The stellar lineup for the evening:

List of artists for Bill Withers benefit concert

List of artists for Bill Withers benefit concert

I know some of Bill Withers music. Hearing his catalog live, I quickly realize I’m familiar with more than I thought through other artists.

Kendrick Lamar, Michael Jackson, Big Daddy Kane, Damian Marley, Blackstreet, Maroon 5, 2Pac, just to name a few.*

Emcee Rita Houston of New York’s WFUV Radio runs the night like a well-oiled machine. Introduction, performance, applause, repeat. Musical Director, Greg Phillinganes, leads a house band of accomplished professionals who have worked with the biggest names in the recording industry.

After the first few songs, the melodic journey changes course and the duration of the show recreates 1973’s Bill Withers Live at Carnegie Hall, named by Rolling Stone as one of the 50 Greatest Live Albums of All Time. Dr. John kicks off the set with a raspy, rousing rendition of Use Me Up.

Each entertainer interprets a Withers classic. Some highlights:

Michael McDonald’s voice gets better with time. Ledisi belts out a Bill Withers song for the first time, Who Is He (And What Is He To You). Amos Lee recounts meaningful time he spent with Withers in Los Angeles. Anthony Hamilton works the stage as if he is on tour. The 10-year-old boy next to me is definitely waiting for Ed Sheeran’s version of Ain’t No Sunshine (Sheeran and Withers, both faced stuttering as children, appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert the night before the event).

The award for best vocalist/song pairing hands down goes to Aloe Blacc and Hope She’ll Be Happier.

and garner a standing ovation. (The video quality is not the best, but the sound is great.)

Everyone returns to the stage for I Wish You Well. Withers closes the show with commentary about Donald Trump, talks about his love for the SAY kids, and thanks the performers and tribute producer Michael Dorf. The event raises $50,000.

Thoroughly musically satiated, I return to Baltimore and have been humming Withers tunes ever since.

*Please check out a comprehensive list of artists who have used Withers’ work on whosampled.com.

 

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