Bill Withers, singer-songwriter of ‘Ain’t No Sunshine,’ has died at age 81

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Bill Withers, the sweet-voiced baritone behind such classic songs as “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me” and “Use Me” has died. Withers was 81 years old. According to a family statement given to the Associated Press, he died Monday in Los Angeles due to heart complications. (On Friday morning, Withers’ official Facebook page shared an obituary from Billboard that references the AP’s reporting.)

Withers, who disdained the machinations of the record industry, stopped recording in 1985, just 14 years after he became a star with his debut album, Just As I Am.

The son of a West Virginia coal miner, William Harrison Withers, Jr. was born July 4, 1938. He grew up with a stutter and was one of 13 children in his family. Only six survived infancy.

He was the first man in his family not to go into the mines, and he couldn’t wait to get away from the place where he grew up, as he told NPR’s Morning Edition in 2015.

Bill Withers, performing on television in London in 1972.
Bill Withers, performing on television in London in 1972.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Withers’ father died when he was just 13. Soon, another tragedy struck the family. “My social idol was my older brother,” Withers told NPR. “He got hurt in the coal mines — he got crushed by a coal cart — so, he wasn’t able to work in there anymore.” Withers’ brother became a mailman, and he saw a way out of the mines for himself, too.

Withers joined the Navy after graduating from high school in 1956. After a nine-year stint, he moved first to San Jose, Calif. and, a couple of years later, to Los Angeles. For a while, he was a milkman, and then worked in a factory making airplane parts. In the evenings, he would sit in as a singer at small clubs around the city. Between shifts, he learned how to play the guitar and began writing his own songs, which he began shopping around to labels.

Withers was first signed by Clarence Avant at Sussex Records; Avant brought in Booker T. Jones to produce 1971’s Just As I Am. (Stephen Stills played lead guitar.)

The album resulted in the hit single “Ain’t No Sunshine,” which went to No. 3 on the Billboard charts and won a Grammy for Best R&B Song the following year.

But, as Withers told NPR, “Ain’t No Sunshine” had started out as a B-side; label reps didn’t see the song’s promise. “The disc jockeys, God bless ’em, turned it over, and that’s how I got started,” he said, adding a zinger: “I call A&R [“artists and repertoire” decision-makers at record labels] ‘antagonistic & redundant,’ and that’s why — because they make those genius decisions like that.”

Just As I Am‘s cover shows Withers standing at the doorway of the factory where he still worked while he recorded the project, carrying his lunch pail. At that point, Withers was already 32 years old.

The following year, Withers released a second album, Still Bill. Its first single, “Lean on Me,” went to No. 1; the album’s second single, “Use Me,” went to No. 2. Withers also became an in-demand songwriter for other artists, composing for such stars as Gladys Knight and José Feliciano. He made two more albums for Sussex — 1973’s Live At Carnegie Hall and 1974’s +‘Justments — before the label folded.

Bill Withers Can Still Bite

In his brief career, Bill Withers wrote some indelible hits, enough to get him inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. But since quitting the music business in the mid-1980s, Withers has been so low-key, so media-shy, that most people wouldn’t recognize him if he sat down next to them.

Withers signed with the powerhouse label Columbia Records in 1975, but it was not a happy arrangement. Withers wanted to continue writing his own songs but later, he said in interviews that Columbia tried to mold him into someone he wasn’t — urging him to record Elvis Presley covers, for example. Columbia thought he was difficult to work with. Whatever transpired, it was clear that the two sides just didn’t mesh.

Not one of Withers’ five albums for Columbia reached the Top 40. In 1981, he had his last big hit: “Just The Two Of Us,” a duet with saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. Four years later, his recording deal with Columbia ended, and Withers, for all intents and purposes, walked away from the public eye as a performing artist. (He occasionally continued to write songs for others, however: for example, he wrote for Jimmy Buffett’s 2004 album License To Chill, as well as for George Benson’s 2009 project Songs And Stories.)

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. At the time, he told Rolling Stone: “I see it as an award of attrition. 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. I don’t think I’ve done bad for a guy from Slab Fork, West Virginia.”

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit
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Frank Ocean shares two lonesome new singles, ‘Dear April’ and ‘Cayendo’

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If there is any pop star that is perfectly suited to our current moment — someone who works in isolation, rarely appears in large public spaces and communicates mostly through occasionally cryptic social media posts — it’s Frank Ocean. He released two new songs, “Dear April” and “Cayendo,” on his Blonded YouTube channel and streaming services Friday.

Ocean previewed these tracks on his Beats 1 radio show back in October and they started circulating online earlier this week when fans got their hands on 7″ vinyl preorders. Those two vinyl disks featured the “acoustic” A-sides that were released today, as well as B-side remixes from French electronic duo Justice and hip-hop producer Sango, which have not yet been made widely available.

In addition to being notoriously private personally, Frank Ocean is an aesthetically perfect artist for an indefinite period of self-isolation. As sparse, heart-wrenching R&B ballads about the beauty of love and loss, “Dear April” and “Cayendo” are both automatic entries into the canon of his songs for lying in bed alone, solemnly staring out a window, or just generally getting absorbed in your thoughts.

The new tracks are spiritual successors to songs like “Skyline To” and “Self Control” from Blonde, in which Ocean strips away most of the instrumentation and lets you sit with the melancholy of his voice. Released in August of 2016, Ocean’s sound then captured the bittersweet feeling of looking back at summer — and summer love — coming to an end. In the spring of 2020, “Dear April” and “Cayendo” are songs for looking forward to a summer that might not happen.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit
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Phish surprise fans with new album, ‘Sigma Oasis’

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Jam band superheroes Phish have capped off an incredibly quick album rollout campaign, unexpectedly releasing a new album, “Sigma Oasis,” Thursday.

The buildup to the release took a grand total of two days: Tuesday night, the band announced, during a break in its “Dinner and a Movie” series, that a new album was on its way. The following night, Phish hosted a listening party via YouTube and Facebook Live, before releasing the album wide on Thursday morning.

According to a press release, “Sigma Oasis” was recorded in classic Phish fashion: In a series of unplanned jam sessions at the “Barn” — the band’s recording studio outside of Burlington, Vt.

Phish surprised fans with a new album Sigma Oasis Thursday.
Rene Huemer/Courtesy of the artist

Phish wrote that they had initially planned a more traditional album cycle, but for the group, famous for its incredibly dedicated fans and marathon live performances, releasing “Sigma Oasis” was a way to stay connected at a time when concerts have become unthinkable.

“When we recorded the album, we didn’t plan to release it this way. But today, because of the environment we’re all in, it just feels right,” the band writes in a statement on the release. “We don’t know the next time that we’re all going to be able to be together. This is an opportunity to have a moment where the Phish community can share something despite being physically separated.”

We’ve postponed our membership drive to bring you uninterrupted programming, but your support is more crucial than ever to keep us on air. If you’re able to, please make a gift to help 88Nine continue providing music, stories, and positivity!

“Sigma Oasis” is out now on JEMP Records / ATO and available to stream below.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit
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Janis Joplin gave us more than a piece of her heart

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Sarah Mac here, Marketing Director at 88Nine. I’ve been part of the crew for almost five years and my job in a nutshell is to grow brand awareness and our audiences on-air, online and on-site. So if you’re reading this, I’ve done my job! 

This year for International Women’s Day, I spent a nice 20 minutes chatting with the queen of my heart, Dori Zori, about the other queen of my heart, Janis Joplin. 

For me, Janis Joplin started as a way to show off at karaoke, but the more I learned about her, the more obsessed I became. 

Janis Joplin is from Port Arthur, Texas, a small industrial town right between New Orleans and Austin. The daughter of a religious mother and an atheist father, her path in life represents the dichotomy of her parents views. 

She wove her way from New Orleans to Austin to San Francisco, eventually settling there and becoming a founding member of the burgeoning Haight-Ashbury counterculture scene. 

Janis got her proverbial start singing for Big Brother and Holding Company, and went from an skeptically recruited vocalist to the band’s leader and reason for fame. 

This three-paragraph simplification of her biography does no justice to the amount of personal and professional turmoil Janis faced on her rise to the top. 

A story that sounds as old as time, Janis was one of the first women to do this in rock n’ roll. She was a literal trailblazer. Without Janis Joplin, we don’t have Joan Jett, we don’t have Joss Stone, we don’t have P!nk. 

And it’s hard, I’d imagine, in a moment where you are trailblazing to have the wherewithal to know that you’re trailblazing. But it kind of seems like Janis did. The songs I selected tell a story of Janis’ recognition of the inequality between men and women, and her subsequent action after recognizing that fact. 

  1. Women Is Losers (Live from Avalon Ballroom)
  2. Bye, Bye Baby
  3. Piece of My Heart 

I could gush about her vocal prowess, the honesty you hear in her voice, the rawness, but it’s better if I let her tell you herself.

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Backline’s Emergency Response Program will connect Milwaukee musicians with resources

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Between canceled tours and lost gigs, musicians have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Milwaukee’s Backline program is doing its part to help get musicians through this difficult time by offering a two-week Emergency Response Program designed to connect them with available resources. The program will run April 6-17.

The virtual program will feature experts speaking about how to apply for financial support and navigate opportunities in the virtual music industry, as well as how to maintain a digital presence and manage personal finances. There will also be webinars about mental health and wellness resources, as well as listening sessions with producers, songwriters and A&R reps.

The Emergency Response Program will also offer virtual “office hours” for artists to meet with Backline team members. “The goal of the office hours is to help artists identify, understand, and engage with resources to help them during the COVID-19 crisis,” according to the program.

Interested artists have until April 2 to apply.

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National Recording Registry announces 2020 entries, from Dr. Dre to Mister Rogers

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Updated March 25, 3:11 p.m. ET.

The National Recording Registry was founded in 2000 by the Library of Congress to showcase the breadth and depth of American sound. Every year, 25 recordings are picked to be preserved for posterity.

This year, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden called the selections “the ultimate stay at home playlist.” The entries, culled from a list of over 800 possibilities, include the original cast recording of the 1964 musical “Fiddler on the Roof” starring Zero Mostel; the 1978 disco classic “Y.M.C.A.“; Tina Turner’s 1984 pop hit “Private Dancer“; and a 1951 broadcast of a nail-biter of a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants, with Jackie Robinson at bat. They go all the way back to a ferocious 1927 spoken-word recording made by Italian Americans in response to the execution of anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, and all the way up to a contemporary rap classic: Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic,” from 1992.

Dr. Dre’s The Chronic was one of this year’s 25 additions to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, alongside the theme song to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and music by Tina Turner. | Mike Coppola/Getty Images

But the most comforting recording in this year’s list is indisputably the theme song to the beloved PBS children’s show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Here’s the full list of the 25 recordings:

  1. “Whispering” (single), Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra (1920)
  2. “Protesta per Sacco e Vanzetti,” Compagnia Columbia; “Sacco e Vanzetti,” Raoul Romito (1927)
  3. “La Chicharronera” (single), Narciso Martinez and Santiago Almeida (1936)
  4. “Arch Oboler’s Plays” episode “The Bathysphere.” (Nov. 18, 1939)
  5. “Me and My Chauffeur Blues” (single), Memphis Minnie (1941)
  6. The 1951 National League tiebreaker: New York Giants vs. Brooklyn Dodgers — Russ Hodges, announcer (Oct. 3, 1951)
  7. Puccini’s Tosca (album), Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano, Angelo Mercuriali, Tito Gobbi, Melchiorre Luise, Dario Caselli, Victor de Sabata (1953)
  8. “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” (single), Allan Sherman (1963)
  9. WGBH broadcast of the Boston Symphony on the day of the John F. Kennedy assassination, Boston Symphony Orchestra (1963)
  10. Fiddler on the Roof (album), original Broadway cast (1964)
  11. “Make the World Go Away” (single), Eddy Arnold (1965)
  12. Hiromi Lorraine Sakata Collection of Afghan Traditional Music (1966-67; 1971-73)
  13. “Wichita Lineman” (single), Glen Campbell (1968)
  14. Dusty in Memphis (album), Dusty Springfield (1969)
  15. Mister Rogers Sings 21 Favorite Songs From Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (album), Fred Rogers (1973)
  16. Cheap Trick at Budokan (album), Cheap Trick (1978)
  17. Holst: Suite No. 1 in E-Flat, Suite No. 2 in F / Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks / Bach: Fantasia in G (Special Edition Audiophile Pressing album), Frederick Fennell and the Cleveland Symphonic Winds (1978)
  18. “Y.M.C.A.” (single), Village People (1978)
  19. A Feather on the Breath of God (album), Gothic Voices; Christopher Page, conductor; Hildegard von Bingen, composer (1982)
  20. Private Dancer (album), Tina Turner (1984)
  21. Ven Conmigo (album), Selena (1990)
  22. The Chronic (album), Dr. Dre (1992)
  23. “I Will Always Love You” (single), Whitney Houston (1992)
  24. Concert in the Garden (album), Maria Schneider Orchestra (2004)
  25. Percussion Concerto (album), Colin Currie (2008)
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit
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AlunaGeorge, Diplo, The Lumineers and others to take part in a festival on Twitch this Saturday

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Music festivals have either canceled or postponed to later in the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But that hasn’t stop artists from performing live thanks to the world of live streaming on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitch.

The latter, which is known for video game streaming, has become a growing home for artists, DJ and musicians to share their creations. And this Saturday, Twitch is taking that one step further by hosting a music and gaming festival called Stream Aid.

Stream Aid 2020 will take place Saturday, March 28, from 11 a.m. – 12 a.m. on the Twitch streaming platform. The festival will bring some of the best in music, gaming and sports to benefit COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for WHO.

The 12-hour festival will feature appearances from AlunaGeorge, Brian Aubert of Silversun Pickups, Dan Smith of Bastille, Devon Gilfillian, Die Antwoord, Diplo, Jonathan Russell of The Head and The Heart, Jordin Sparks, Kaskade, Michael McDonald, and more.

Throughout the day, the event will host e-sports competitions featuring Fortnite, UNO, and Warzone Battle Royale. For more details visit the Twitch’s Stream Aid website.

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Sometimes strength isn’t flashy or loud, but reveals itself quietly

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Hey there, curious humans of the internet, it’s Erin Bagatta. I’m the Marketing Coordinator here at Radio Milwaukee. If you’ve recently volunteered with the station, you likely know me. I help lead our station’s volunteer program, as well as offer support to other departments in the areas of marketing, photography and content creation.

I also concept and create 88Nine’s promotional material and assorted graphics. My to-do list shapeshifts daily, and I’m thankful to have a creative role that lends itself to such variety.

Hear my picks for International Women’s Day below.

Before delving into my musical picks, I’d like to thank the vibrant soul that is Dori Zori for inviting me to curate a small block of programming for International Women’s Day. Her brand of quirky-cool is unmatchable, her friendly warmth undeniable, and her ability to make those of us who normally don’t speak on-air feel comfortable and confident is admirable (and very much appreciated).

The songs I selected for my set speak on self love, familial love and the love we have for our friends. They possess a duality of strength and softness, and remind us that gentleness does not equate weakness. These songs are pensive and meditative… but are just as powerful as songs with belting vocals, pulsating beats and face-melting guitar solos. Strength exhibits itself in different ways. Sometimes strength isn’t flashy or loud, but rather reveals itself quietly.

I bookended my set with spoken word, the first track being “Hold Your Own” by Kate Tempest. Her words bleed resilience, tenderness and humanity. Each line serves as a mantra reminding us to hold others with the same consciousness and compassion that we carry ourselves with. What you are is what you need, and every act of love spawns from inner, self love. I would willingly stitch any line of this poem into my soul.

“My Mother and I” speaks on maternal, selfless love. We are what has come before. When I listen to this song, I can’t help but think of my own mom. Now that I’m in my twenties, I can see our relationship transitioning, and ultimately growing. As a child, our parents are seen as all-knowing, invincible, flawless beings, yet as you grow older, you evolve into of your own person, and you see your parents in a new light — you realize they are humans with their own struggles and insecurities and unanswered questions… and love them even more for that. I want to be there for my parents in the way that they’ve always been there for me (hi Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this).

Both “Isobel” by Phoebe Green and “Mary” by Big Thief paint mental vignettes of friendship. These songs croon of a love characterized by the intimacy of a sisterly bond and the gratitude of loving someone who will always have your back. The lyrics bathe over me. When I close my eyes, I am simultaneously the songwriter and the dear friend the song is written for. I feel the rush of eternal youth. I time travel back to moments spent with friends just laying on the floor talking, laughing until we cry, crying until we laugh, effortlessly abandoning all inhibition.

Lastly, only Maya Angelou can deliver a poem that is as equally as cool and collected as it is potent. Blending the cadence of Angelou’s saucy words with contemporary hip-hop, “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” simply speaks for itself. It’s a mic-drop of a song. And a beautifully inspiring one at that. May we all be less fearful and may we all remember our worth. In the words of Angelou herself, “Try to live your life in a way that you will not regret years of useless virtue and inertia and timidity. Take up the battle… it’s yours, this is your life. This is your world.”

Happy Women’s History Month!


  • “Hold Your Own” by Kate Tempest
  • “My Mother and I” by Lucy Dacus
  • “Isobel” by Phoebe Green
  • “Mary” by Big Thief
  • “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” by Maya Angelou
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Explore the artists of Lilith Fair with 88Nine’s Dori Zori and Doris Wessels

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For International Women’s Month, we’re sharing playlists curated by 88Nine staff members who aren’t normally featured on the air. 88Nine dedicated our broadcast to these staffers and artists on March 8, led by Dori Zori, and spent the entire day celebrating women in music. Now, we’re revisiting these selections throughout International Women’s Month.

Dori and I take a journey with the artists of Lilith Fair below.

Dori and Doris (right) were accidental “twins” at 88Nine’s 2020 Holiday party.

I’ve worked at Radio Milwaukee for eight years and in radio for 26 years. My current role is as Traffic and Compliance Manager, which is a behind-the-scenes job where I schedule all the things that go on the air besides the music, such as contests, underwriting messages and station promotions. I also spend a lot of time explaining that I am not Dori. We have been waiting for a chance to be on the air together, and this was such fun! In the future, I’ll be on-air Sundays from 6am-9am.

My theme for International Women’s Day this year is Lilith Fair, which was a traveling tour from 1997 to 1999. Lilith Fair was started by Sarah McLachlan because she couldn’t get concert promoters to put her on a bill with other female performers because they claimed tickets wouldn’t sell. So she put together a tour of all women, and it was the highest grossing festival tour in 1997. Lilith Fair came to Milwaukee, always in August at the Marcus Amphitheater. I missed the first year because I was at the Reading Festival in England but I was delighted to be there in 1998. 

In those same years I worked at a great radio station here in Milwaukee called The Point (106.9 FM WXPT and later WPNT). I was part of the station before it even launched and was part of the on-air staff and office staff there. I loved it, and when Lilith Fair began, it was a great fit with the artists we played. 

If you want to learn a ton more about Lilith Fair beyond what we chat about, I highly recommend this article that hears from the founders and participants, looking back 20 years later.

Here are some favorite songs by my favorite Lilith Fair artists that I played while hanging out with Dori:

  • Sarah McLachlan – “Sweet Surrender”
  • Liz Phair – “Jealousy”
  • Shawn Colvin – “Steady On”
  • Indigo Girls – “Strange Fire”
  • Abra Moore – “Four Leaf Clover”
  • Dar Williams – “What Do You Hear In These Sounds”
  • Patty Griffin – “One Big Love”
  • Alana Davis – “Crazy”
  • Jewel – “Who Will Save Your Soul”
  • Letters to Cleo – “Here and Now”
  • Sixpence None the Richer – “There She Goes”
  • Sheryl Crow – “Every Day is a Winding Road”
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New programming to help you learn, dance and connect

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