The late Bill Withers honored with ‘Hometown Legend’ award at Raleigh County Community Awards Gala

By Matthew Young, RealWV

BECKLEY, W.Va. – “Since my father died, I can honestly say that our family has been humbled by all of the unlimited and overwhelming love and appreciation for my father’s music worldwide. As a family, we’re still trying to protect his legacy, and hopefully bring his music to generations of fans.”

That’s what Todd Withers, son of legendary musician and West Virginia native Bill Withers, told the several hundred in attendance at Thursday’s Community Awards Gala at the Beckley Convention Center. The evening marked the 103rd holding of the gala, and was presented by the Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce. 

Known for his timeless songs, including, “Ain’t no Sunshine,” “Just the Two of Us,” “Lean on Me,”  and “Lovely Day” – the theme of this year’s gala – Bill Withers grew up in Beckley, where he attended Stratton High School before joining the United States Navy at the age of 17. A member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the WV Music Hall of Fame, Withers sadly passed away in 2020.

On behalf of his mother Marcia, his sister Kori, and himself, Todd Withers traveled from his California home to accept the “Hometown Legend” award, posthumously presented to his father.

“I thank everyone here so much for honoring my father,” Withers said. “We’re all truly honored.”

Joining Todd Withers on stage was longtime Withers family friend and Director of the WV Music Hall of Fame, Michael Lipton, who shared something with the audience that Bill Withers had said during an interview several years before. 

“The challenge is to get young people who grow up in places like West Virginia to take the limits off of themselves, and realize there’s no magic that somebody else has in the world that they don’t,” Lipton quoted. “They’re just people – and man, that’s a lot.”

As a very special surprise, those in attendance had the opportunity to witness the live performance of a previously unreleased Bill Withers song – “Mama, West Virginia.” Joining Withers and Lipton on stage for the performance were Jupie Little of The Carpenter Ants on drums, and iconic singer/songwriter John Ellison – also a native West Virginian. 

Jupie Little, John Ellison, and Michael Lipton perform Bill Wither’s unreleased “Mama, West Virginia,” while Todd Withers watching from on stage. Beckley Convention Center, May 9. Video by Matthew Young, RealWV.

For the past several years, the City of Beckley – in partnership with the Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce, The Bill Withers Memorial Foundation, the Withers family, and the Beckley Area Foundation – has been raising money for the creation and installation of a statue honoring the late Bill Withers. Once the project has been fully funded and installation completed, the statue will be located at the Beckley Intermodal Gateway. 

Those wishing to donate to the project may do so by visiting the Beckley Area Foundation’s website, at bafwv.org

In addition to the Hometown Legend award, Thursday’s gala saw the following awards presented to members of the community:

  • The Partner in Education Award: presented to Laura Pinnick, of Rhythms of Grace.
  • The Selfless Volunteer Award: presented to Sherrie Hunter, with the Raleigh County Solid Waste Authority
  • The Outstanding Contributor to the Arts Award: presented to Toneta Akers-Toler, with the West Virginia Dance Company.
  • The Iron Pillar Award: presented to the Beckley Water Company.
  • The Mover of Mountains Award: posthumously presented to Dr. Thomas Warren Jarrett.
  • The Prestigious Community Service and Leadership Award: presented to the Friends of Coal Ladies’ Auxiliary.
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