He joined the US Navy at seventeen, and stayed there for nine years, before he moving to Los Angeles in 1967. His first success was with the company Sussex Records in 1971 with his debut hit single "Ain't No Sunshine", on the album Just As I Am.
His second album Still Bill also did well on the charts. It included the well-known single "Lean on Me". He has released albums from 1971 to 1985. Other popular songs he sings are "Lovely Day" and "Just the Two of Us".
His songs have been covered by many. Club Nouveau's cover of "Lean on Me" earned Withers his third Grammy as a songwriter. Will Smith also covers his song "Just the Two of Us".