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CITY OF BECKLEY ANNOUNCES PLANS TO HONOR LIFE AND LEGACY OF BILL WITHERS WITH SCULPTURE AND ANNUAL MEMORIAL FESTIVAL 

Matt Mullens talks with Lola Rizer about the upcoming Bill Withers Festival 5/14/2022

BECKLEY — The City of Beckley, in partnership with the Bill Withers Memorial Foundation, The Withers Family, The Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce and Beckley Area Foundation (BAF) proudly announce a long overdue recognition and historical landmark to celebrate West Virginia’s biggest star, Bill Withers. A sculpture to commemorate this rock and roll hall of famer will be the focal point of downtown Beckley, on the soon to be named, “Bill Withers Plaza” and will celebrate Bill’s inspiration to our national community for years to come. Sculptor Pastor Fred Hightower finished the clay model which will now be cast in bronze to complete the sculpture and ensure its longevity.. 

To further honor his legacy an Annual ‘Bill Withers Memorial Festival’ will be held at the The Bill Withers Plaza (former Beckley Intermodal Gateway) site of the sculpture. During an earlier ceremony an appropriate Bill Withers historical marker was installed at his alma mater of (former) Stratton High School (current site of Stratton Elementary School) on May 15th, 2021, was proclaimed as ‘Bill Withers Day.’ The festival will be held on that same weekend annually and will host a lineup of bands and musicians to celebrate Withers’ music and message of ‘when you’re not strong, I’ll help you carry on.’ 

The concert will include several acts and vendors throughout the day in conjunction with the Sweet Treats festival running from 10am-7:30pm. Acts include: How Great Thou Art, The Carpenter Ants, Lords of Lester, Matt Mullins & The Bringdowns, The Parachute Brigade, Drew Bailey Lawrence, Scott T. Smith & Aristotle Jones. Groovy 94.1 will be live on location. 

“This project represents the first step in a deliberative and long-needed process by which we as a city can assess the many monuments and memorials across our downtown as a walking tour,” said Mayor Rappold. “This effort is how we create a platform to channel our city’s dynamic civic energy to purposefully reflect our values as West Virginians and uplift the stories of our city’s residents, particularly when it comes to the permanent memorialization of our history and shared heritage.” 

A meaningful opportunity awaits to help install this positive focal point in the heart of downtown Beckley. There are multiple tiers of donation and award levels:

● $500 | Silver Record Level 

In addition to contributing to the project, you will receive a statement of recognition and a signed memorial festival poster by all the musicians and a numbered art print signed by the artist. 

● $2,000 | Gold Record Level 

Your name/organization/etc. will be announced at the dedication, you will be recognized on all related social media accounts for the event, you will receive a statement of recognition, you will receive a signed memorial festival poster by all the musicians and a numbered art print signed by the artist. 

● $5,000 | Platinum Record Level 

Your name/organization/etc. will be printed on a single brick leading to the statue, you will be announced at the dedication, you will be recognized on all related social media accounts for the event, you will receive a statement of recognition, you will receive a signed memorial festival poster by all the musicians and a numbered art print signed by the artist. 

● $10,000 | Diamond Record Level 

Your name/organization/etc. will be printed on a four-brick-square leading to the statue, you will be announced at the dedication, you will be recognized on all related social media accounts for the event, you will receive a statement of recognition, you will receive a signed memorial festival poster by all the musicians and a numbered art print signed by the artist. 

● $20,000+ | Double Platinum Record Level 

Your name/organization/etc. will be featured on a plaque at the foot of the statue, you will be announced at the dedication, you will be recognized on all related social

media accounts for the event, you will receive a statement of recognition, you will receive a signed memorial festival poster by all the musicians and a numbered art print signed by the artist. 

More about Bill Withers: in 1938, Withers was born in Slab Fork in Raleigh County, WV, but soon moved to Beckley at three years old. He attended Stratton High School and graduated Class of ‘56. After high school, at the age of 17, he enlisted in the Navy and served for nine years. Once he was discharged, he moved to Los Angeles where he bought a guitar at a pawn shop. Withers now into his early 30’s began to write music and make demos. One of those demos got into the hands of Booker T. Jones (a renowned producer and musical legend). Booker T. heard that mellifluous Bill voice and produced his first record, which included the B-side track “Ain’t No Sunshine.” This song went on to win the 1972 Grammy Award for Best R&B Song, when Withers was 34 years old. 

Bill was involved with numerous philanthropic organizations. One of the more interesting facts about Bill is that he had a lifelong fluency disorder in which he stuttered. His work with The Stuttering Foundation would become part of his legacy to help kids through speech therapy. 

Withers made many trips back to West Virginia throughout his successful career, attended Stratton Class Reunions, and even bought a house at The Resort at Glade Springs. If you asked Bill Withers about his success he would quote, “Luck is the intersection where preparation and opportunity meet,” downplaying his talents. Multi Grammy Award Winner, Grammy Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and many other accolades show how his talents far exceeded his modesty. Bill was also the first inductee into the “West Virginia Music Hall Of Fame” in 2007. 

The Bill Withers sculpture is created by Pastor Frederick Hightower, a native of neighboring Boone county, West Virginia. Hightower discovered his artistic ability early in life and has pursued painting and sculpture for many years while also serving as a Baptist minister. His vision is to create heirloom-quality African American art and artistic masterpieces, from traditional oil portraiture, sculpture and surrealistic murals he provides a refined and elegant style. Hightower has created numerous portraits, and has sculpted many world-renowned sculptures including Katherine Johnson for West Virginia State University completed in 2018.

Pastor Hightower has worked closely with the Withers’ Family to capture this depiction of their family patriarch. 

“Lean On Me” is a perfect theme song portraying the heart of Appalachia in Beckley as it evokes true emotion. Bill shed light to the fact that “Lean On Me” would likely never have been written by someone from a large city. It’s a song that is authentic and unique to a rural demographic. But it does speak to human nature as a whole… that we indeed all look for someone to lean on. 

Let’s all have a ‘Lovely Day’ together on May 14th at the Annual Bill Withers Memorial Festival! 

Donations can be made online @ https://www.bafwv.org/billwithers