Country and rock and roll collided Friday (January 22) when [artist id="980"]Sheryl Crow[/artist], [artist id="1161250"]Keith Urban[/artist] and [artist id="10551"]Kid Rock[/artist] joined forces to perform the hit song “Lean on Me” during MTV’s “Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief.”
Written by [artist id="19189"]Bill Withers[/artist] and released in 1972 on his second album Still Bill, “Lean on Me” was inspired by Withers’ small-town upbringing in the mining community of Slab Fork, West Virginia — a close-knit atmosphere Withers pined for after moving to L.A. The song hit #1 on July 8, 1972, and remained on the charts for 19 weeks. In 2004, the song was ranked #205 on Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list.
Despite its popularity, the track did not receive a Grammy until it was re-recorded and funkified by the R&B group Club Nouveau in 1987. The quintet also scored a #1 hit with their rendition.
Two years later, the song once again stepped into the spotlight with the 1989 Morgan Freeman film of the same name. The biographical drama centered on Freeman’s Joe Clark, a real-life inner-city high school principal in New Jersey whose school was at risk of being taken over by the state if students’ scores don’t increase. The movie’s soundtrack featured two versions of the hit, one by Thelma Houston and the Winans and the second by Sandra Reaves-Phillips and the cast.
Cover versions have also been released by Bonnie Tyler, Michael Bolton and Rascal Flatts. The song was featured in a 2009 episode of the Fox musical series “Glee” and was re-recorded by Disney star Mitchell Musso for the movie “Snow Buddies.” Mary J. Blige performed the song on HBO’s “We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration” at the Lincoln Memorial.
In 2006, Withers reflected on his iconic song’s wide-ranging appeal. “I remember visiting a prison and happening to walk by, and the prison choir was practicing, and they were singing that song,” Withers told Goldmine magazine. “I remember the kids put me in the sixth-grade play when my son graduated from elementary school. I had to sing ‘Lean on Me’ with the kids. They got me there. From prisons to churches to children’s situations is where I’ve run into that song. After this amount of time that song has sort of ingrained itself where it almost seems like something that doesn’t particularly belong to me. It’s like it was something that was there before I got here. If you ask somebody, they might tell you that ‘Lean on Me’ was 100 years old.”