A History of Bill Withers Covers & Samples on the Billboard Charts, From Will Smith to Shawn & Camila

Although the late Bill Withers spent barely a dozen years as an active performer -- from the early 1970s through the mid-'80s, before becoming sufficiently dispirited about the music industry -- his songbook and legacy has endured thanks to a slate of covers, interpolations and re-workings of his most famous tunes.

Withers died Monday of heart complications at age 81 in Los Angeles. His death was announced publicly four days later, on Friday (April 3).

As much a songwriter as a singer, the soul legend mused on his writing background upon his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination in 2015, saying, "What few songs I wrote during my brief career, there ain't a genre that somebody didn't record them in. I'm not a virtuoso, but I was able to write songs that people could identify with."

While Withers achieved plenty of Billboard chart success as an artist -- 13 Billboard Hot 100 hits and 12 Billboard 200 albums, including top five appearances on both among them -- here are six examples of his best-known compositions that found new life via covers, samples and interpolations that inspired those in other genres and generations, and found success in their own right.

"Lean on Me"

Withers' ode to friendship and support secured his only Hot 100 No. 1 when it led the chart for three weeks in 1972, and it earned renewed interest the following decade thanks to a double revival. In 1987, R&B group Club Nouveau retooled the song as a reggae-light, hand-clap anthem, and the cover shot to the Hot 100's top spot for a two-week reign. The success made "Lean" the fifth of only nine songs to have two different versions both reach No. 1. Plus, the remake reaped a big reward for Withers, who took home the Grammy for best R&B song the following year as the track's songwriter. Other renditions of the song have climbed on to the Hot 100 since, including takes by the Glee Cast (No. 50 in 2009) and Kirk Franklin, featuring Mary J. Blige, Bono, R. Kelly, Crystal Lewis & The Family (No. 79, 1998).

"Just the Two of Us"

The sultry collaboration with Grover Washington Jr., a No. 2 Hot 100 smash in 1981, served as the centerpiece for Will Smith's 1998 hit of the same name. Though Smith shifts the narrative from lovers to a father-son commitment, the interpolation was another success for the former Fresh Prince on his Big Willie Style debut LP. Smith's "Us" reached the Hot 100's top 20, led Hot Rap Songs for two weeks and climbed to No. 6 on the Pop Songs airplay chart.

Bonus: Keri Hilson also traces part of her most recent top 40 Hot 100 hit to "Us," which is sampled in her "Pretty Girl Rock." The single, from her No Boys Allowed album, peaked at No. 24 on the Hot 100 in 2011.

"Ain't No Sunshine"

Obviously, Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello's first collaboration, "I Know What You Did Last Summer," isn't a Withers remake, but the duet title's first two words lift from the soul legend's iconic "Ain't No Sunshine," with Mendes and Cabello each re-creating the original's famed "I know, I know" vocal riff in their verses. Thanks to the writing credit that "Summer" provided Withers, it added a new top 20 hit to the songwriter's collection with its No. 20 peak in 2016.

"Lovely Day"

As performed by Withers, "Day" became the legend's last Hot 100 top 40 hit entirely on his own, peaking at No. 30 in 1978. The jubilant tune -- most memorable for a particularly extended note toward the end -- is perhaps Withers' most versatile composition, largely thanks to its revival in the jazz, adult and dance circuits. In 1992, The S.O.U.L. System reimagined the track as "It's Gonna Be a Lovely Day." The single was included on the Whitney Houston-led soundtrack to The Bodyguard and became the album's fifth -- and only non-Houston track -- to crack the top 40, reaching No. 34 in 1992. In addition, the song topped the Dance Club Songs chart for three weeks and reached No. 13 on the Rhythmic Songs airplay chart.

Neo-soul singer Jill Scott also generated success with her 2001 "Day" cover. Her rendition reached No. 7 on Smooth Jazz Songs and No. 32 on the Adult R&B Songs airplay ranking. Jazz musician Victor Fields also took the tune back onto the Adult R&B Songs chart in 2007 with his own remake, which rose to No. 27.


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