The first half of the 1970s was the absolute golden era of soul music, black pop, R&B, whatever you care to call it. Iron-grip record labels like Motown and Stax/Volt had begun to loosen the reins a bit, and a handful of important artists–notably Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye–had effectively wrested artistic control and turned out masterpieces.
Al Green, Sly & the Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Robert Flack, Donny Hathaway, Kool & the Gang, War, the Staple Singers, O'Jays, the Spinners, the Stylistics, Isaac Haynes, the Isley Brothers, Bobby Womack and other artists all made music that mattered. Even one-hit wonders like William DeVaughn (“Be Thankful For What You Got”), Timmy Thomas (“Why Can't We Live Together”) and Billy Paul (“Me and Mrs. Jones”) released estimable songs.
Right in the thick of all this artistic combustion was Bill Withers, a self-professed “black guy with an acoustic guitar” who made some of the most enduring songs of the era. Unfortunately, Withers' legacy does not match his achievements, and sometimes his name needs to be forced into the discussion about the great artists of the early 1970s.