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Bill Withers Performing “Just the Two of Us” Was Huge Personal Triumph For Tired Singer

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Every artist putting their latest creation into the world hopes for a warm reception. But Bill Withers performing his spin on “Just the Two of Us” is in a league of its own when thinking about all the troubles plaguing him, from small-minded music execs to privately struggling with a stutter.

“Just the Two of Us” strolled onto the airwaves in 1980, written by Withers in collaboration with William Salter, and Ralph MacDonald. Grover Washington Jr. recorded the track, with Withers working his melodious magic on vocals.

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“Just the Two of Us” was a determined, stubborn win for Bill Withers

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Unfortunately, Withers, for all his musical victories, did not always have an easy time of it in the industry, an experience that’s still far too common. In fact, five years after the release of “Just the Two of Us,” Withers would be downright fed up with industry executives, especially the way white record labels would try and control what he sang and how exactly he sang it, along with how he could promote his work.

RELATED: “Ain’t No Sunshine” By Bill Withers Is A Love Song Unlike Any Other

Following their advice would have been a huge loss for us listeners, because the vision that Withers did put together was always a win. You don’t get six Grammy nominations, win three more, and release one chart-topper after another by not knowing what you’re doing.

Case and point: his delivery in “Just the Two of Us,” which has a rhythmic talking sound to it that makes it all the more personable. Over 40 years after the song originally released, fans are still flocking to YouTube for another listen. One fan noted, “He’s just talking and still singing with so much soul it’s crazy.”

Another praised, “Crazy to think he did this live without skipping a beat compared to lip sinking today in 2024 this guy is a true talent.” Others noted how fatigued Withers appeared, which speaks again to all he’d been through in his career, which ultimately spanned 18 years.

A long road to get here

Withers was contending with an industry that didn’t allow him as much freedom as he would have liked / Everett Collection

The New York Times notes that after ’85, Withers would not release any new music for the last 35 years of his life. There was bubbling frustration from lingering bigotry in the industry, frustration at Columbia for blocking his plans to record an album, and more. So, fans of this life performance of “Just the Two of Us” will note “He don’t show emotions in his face but you can feel it in his voice.”

Another fan wonders, “How does he hit those notes when his face doesn’t even change?” We can theorize he was contending with burnout, if not in the midst of it already.

Bill Weathers manages to evoke industry fatigue in his expression and aching emotion in his voice in this performance of Just the Two of Us / YouTube screenshot

There was also the private battle he waged against a stutter many did not even realize he had, and that is while making the Stuttering Foundation’s list of Famous People Who Stutter. It’s theorized that his stutter inspired Withers to stay in the Navy for so long, so he could gain confidence in himself with relative privacy. Whenever he did produce music, no matter the cadence of his voice, there was always pure emotion.

He also privately wrestled with a stutter / ©Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy Everett Collection
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