Bill Withers was born the youngest of six children in the small coal-mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia. Raised in nearby Beckley, West Virginia, Withers was thirteen years old when his father died. He enlisted with the United States Navy at age eighteen and served for nine years; during which time he became interested in singing and writing songs. Soon after his discharge from the Navy (1965), he relocated to Los Angeles (1967) for a musical career.
Withers worked as an assembler for several different companies, including Douglas Aircraft Corporation, while recording demo tapes with his own money, shopping them around and performing in clubs during the night. When he debuted with the song "Ain't No Sunshine" he refused to resign his job because of his belief that the music business was a fickle industry and that he was still a novice compared to other acts.