A statue and annual memorial festival will honor this Raleigh County native who hit the big time.
Slab Fork is a small, unincorporated community near Beckley with a population of fewer than 500 people, but this is where Grammy Award–winning soul singer Bill Withers was born in 1938. Perhaps best known for his timeless tracks “Lean on Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Withers has inspired folks around the world for generations.
Although Withers relocated to Los Angeles, California, where he began his music career after serving in the Navy for about a decade, his humble Appalachian roots had a clear influence on his artistry. Over the course of his life, he made several trips back to his home state and even attended class reunions. In addition to being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Grammy Hall of Fame, he was also the first West Virginia Music Hall of Fame inductee in 2007.
To honor Withers’ life and lasting legacy, the City of Beckley has partnered with the Bill Withers Memorial Foundation, the Withers Family, the Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce, and the Beckley Area Foundation to establish a new historical monument and an annual Bill Withers Memorial Festival in Beckley.
A lifelike statue of Withers holding a guitar, sculpted by Boone County native Pastor Frederick Hightower, will soon be cast in bronze. It will be placed at the Beckley Intermodal Gateway downtown, which will be renamed the Bill Withers Plaza. This will also be the location of the annual Bill Withers Memorial Festival.
After Withers’ passing in March 2020, the City of Beckley proclaimed May 15 Bill Withers Day and the community installed a historical marker at Stratton Elementary School—formerly Stratton High School, where Withers graduated in 1956.
The Bill Withers Festival will be celebrated on the weekend of May 15 each year in honor of Bill Withers Day. This year’s second annual festival, on Saturday, May 14, will feature a variety of musical performances and vendors.