In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone, Amir “Questlove” Thompson referred to Withers as “the last African-American Everyman.” He continued,
“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.”
Indeed, Just as I Am was once called “middlebrow soul,” a reference to how easily accessible it was at a time when music was becoming increasingly complex.
In this week’s episode of The Opus: Just as I Am, host Jill Hopkins is joined by Rolling Stone journalist Andy Greene, Jon Batiste, José James, Aloe Blacc, and Phil Cook to find out what it meant for Bill Withers to be a populist musician when popular music was quickly turning its eyes to more complicated compositions.
Original music by Tony Piazza.
If you missed past seasons of the series or previous episodes on Just as I Am, you can find our full The Opus archive here. You can also enter to win a Bill Withers prize pack to score vinyl, a Gibson guitar, a Sony sound system and turntable, and headphones.