Musicians Around the World Play “Lean on Me,” the Uplifting Song by Bill Withers (RIP)

A few weeks back (but what seems like a dif­fer­ent world now) we told you about the Play­ing for Change project, which fea­tures cov­ers of well loved pop songs played by a group of inter­na­tion­al musicians…the gim­mick being that each musi­cian is record­ed in their own coun­try and only come togeth­er in the mix.

Sud­den­ly, it seems that Play­ing for Change was ahead of the curve, because this is the way the entire world is liv­ing right now. Peo­ple are mak­ing art in quar­an­tine, join­ing togeth­er only through the mag­ic of 21st cen­tu­ry tech­nol­o­gy.

But in hon­or of the pass­ing of Bill With­ers, who left us last week at 81 (not, we should men­tion, because of COVID-19), here’s Play­ing for Change with their ver­sion of “Lean on Me.” With­ers’ mes­sage of love and com­mu­ni­ty is exact­ly what we need right now.

In a 2015 Rolling Stone pro­file Quest­love called him “the last African-Amer­i­can Everyman…Jordan’s ver­ti­cal jump has to be high­er than every­one. Michael Jack­son has to defy grav­i­ty. On the oth­er side of the coin, we’re often viewed as prim­i­tive ani­mals. We rarely land in the mid­dle. Bill With­ers is the clos­est thing black peo­ple have to a Bruce Spring­steen.”

That arti­cle adds that With­ers was so long out of the spot­light that many already thought he was dead. And now he’s passed dur­ing a grim time, it seemed like there was one full day to mourn him before the next round of mor­tal coil shuf­flings. (We’re here to cel­e­brate him for a lit­tle bit longer).

This cov­er fea­tures Renard Poché (New Orleans) on gui­tar, Rober­to Luvi (Livorno, Italy) on slide, Grand­pa Eliot (New Orleans), Clarence Bekker (Ams­ter­dam), Sar­i­tah (Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia), and Titi Tsira (Gugulethu, South Africa) on vocals, aid­ed by Keiko Koma­ki (Kagoshi­ma, Japan) on key­boards, Toby Williams (Chica­go) on drums, One eat One (Livorno, Italy) on elec­tron­ics, Mari­achi group Las Rosas Angeli­nas (Los Ange­les) on strings, Alan­na Vicente (Los Ange­les) on trom­bone, and the chil­dren of Tin­tale Vil­lage in Nepal on har­mo­ni­um.

The track was orig­i­nal­ly com­mis­sioned by the Bill & Melin­da Gates Foun­da­tion for The Art of Sav­ing a Life, which aims to tell the sto­ry of vac­cines and their impor­tance to chil­dren over the world. (I would hope that we under­stand the urgency of vac­cines right about now.)

Bill With­ers was an acci­den­tal hit­mak­er, a nat­ur­al tune­smith, who didn’t enter the busi­ness until his 30s and then dropped out of it less than ten years lat­er. No come­back tour, no duets with an up-and-com­ing star. (Though Quest­love was deter­mined to pro­duce one final album). What he has left is time­less, and his music is still there to get us through these trou­bling times.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Remem­ber­ing Amer­i­can Song­writ­ing Leg­end John Prine (RIP): “A True Folk Singer in the Best Folk Tra­di­tion”

Decon­struct­ing Ste­vie Wonder’s Ode to Jazz and His Hero Duke Elling­ton: A Great Break­down of “Sir Duke”

Musi­cians Around the World Play The Band’s Clas­sic Song, “The Weight,” with Help from Rob­bie Robert­son and Ringo Starr

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

by | Permalink | Comments (5) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (5)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.