At Bill Withers’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in 2015, what was initially meant to be a tribute to him turned into the late soul legend’s final public performance. Withers, who died of heart complications earlier this week, had joined Stevie Wonder and John Legend onstage for performances of “Lean on Me” and “Use Me,” and sat with Wonder for a performance of “Ain’t No Sunshine.” These were rare, precious moments in the spotlight for the famously reclusive singer-songwriter, who did not perform at his Carnegie Hall tribute that same year, opting instead for a simple thank-you speech.
Withers had originally declined to perform at the induction, but Legend brought him center stage anyway for “Lean on Me” and handed him a microphone. (Withers would later tell Rolling Stone about it, “Oh, the idea was to make them think I was singing. I was just sort of fooling around behind John Legend. It’s just something I don’t feel comfortable doing right now. If I was to go to the gym and jog around the track and everything, you know? But it’s been a long time for me. I haven’t done that in like 25 years or something.”)
After the induction ceremony, Withers gave another speech, saying, “It’s been a wonderful, odd odyssey, with ups, downs, and sometimes screw-me-arounds. But I will always remember the good things. The bottom line is — check this out — Stevie Wonder knows my name, and the brother just put me in the Hall of Fame.”
On April 3, after Withers’s death was announced, Legend shared a photo of the two at the ceremony, with a caption saying, “Thank you for the inspiration and the memories, Bill. Everyone, take the time to explore his catalog today. What an incredible songwriter/storyteller.”