Even as we exited the era of the civil rights movement, the need for protest music was as prevalent as ever when Just as I Am was released in 1971. Fast forward 50 years, and those songs continue to be sung by voices gathering in the streets, most recently by those demanding justice under the Black Lives Matter banner. As our country continues to wrestle with racial inequity, tired, hurt, devastated protesters are brought together by Withers’ half-a-century-old lyrics.
Withers passed away before this latest wave of protests gripped the country, and yet his lyrics remain as ever a conduit for the voiceless. In the course of his career, and on Just as I Am in particular, he made exactly the kind of music that would ensure disenfranchised voices would be singing his words long after he’d gone.
In this second episode of The Opus: Just as I Am, we get to know the protest songs of Withers’ debut LP, and the proud Black mindset that led to their creation. Guests include José James and Aloe Blacc.
Original music by Tony Piazza.
If you missed past seasons of the series, you can find a full archive of The Opus here. You can also enter to win a Bill Withers prize pack, which includes vinyl, a Gibson guitar, and a Sony sound system and turntable, and headphones.