We may have mentioned before that we are Bill Withers fans. Okay, super-fans. Okay, stalkers. But sometimes when you put your super-fandom out there to the universe, word circulates around the stars and the planets and good opportunities come back your way like a Haley’s comet. Like, for instance: Okayplayer’s status as co-presenter on Lean On Him, a Bill Withers Tribute at Carnegie Hall. This one of a kind event (presented by Michael Dorf and co-produced by Greg Phillinganes, Marcia Withers, Leo Sacks and Shlomo Lipetz) afforded a few of us–and some friends with cameras–the even more singular opportunity to hang out at rehearsals and chop it with the likes of Anthony Hamilton, Valerie Simpson, Aloe Blacc, Ledisi, Gregory Porter, Keb’ Mo’, Michael McDonald, Steve Jordan, Willie Weeks and NOLA legend Dr. John–not to mention the ever-charming Mr. Withers himself.
The quantity and level of musical talent on display here, multiplied by the profound love for Bill Withers songcraft, completely unencumbered by any of the usual vanity or self-consciousness one would expect from such a stellar line-up–makes this a lovely day for the history books. Like a lot of our favorite days, it seemed to float by in a string of lovely moments, from Dr. John holding forth on why Withers was such “a spiritually hip cat” to Keb’ Mo’ drawing for his cell phone to bump his personal favorite Withers joint, or Porter and legendary-songwriter-in-her-own-right Valerie Simpson fighting over who gets to claim “Grandma’s Hands” as their pick. Then there’s the snatches of sublime music, including peeks at Aloe Blacc performing “Just The Two Of Us” with Withers’ talented daughter Kori Withers backing him, and Valerie Simpson and Gregory Porter covering “Let Me Be The One You Need.”
And then there’s Bill Withers right at the heart of it all, being his unapologetically honest self. “I’ve never had a problem being what I was at that time,” explains the master of simple truths eloquently phrased. “When I was a sailor, I was a sailor. When I was a musician, I was a musician. Now I’m a senior citizen.”
Watch below for this and other gems–and along the way you might just find out how to get to Carnegie Hall.
Editor: Champ Ensminger
Producer: Ginny Suss