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July 4th: Happy Birthday to America and Musician Bill Withers

THURSDAY, JUL 03, 2014

 withers_coverIn addition to Independence Day, July 4th also marks the birthday of soul singer-songwriter Bill Withers, best known for his Grammy Award winning songs including “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Just the Two of Us."  To celebrate, Social Explorer takes a look at data from the musician’s birthplace.

The youngest of six children, he was born on July 4, 1938, in Slab Fork, West Virginia, and raised in nearby Beckley.  (The two towns were both part of Raleigh County.)  Check out this map of Raleigh County from the 1940 Census.




Back in 1940, Raleigh had 86,687 residents, giving it a population density twice that of West Virginia at large.  The area was 85.1 percent white and 14.9 percent black, making it more African American than the rest of the state (6.2 percent) and the nation (9.8 percent), yet it was quite segregated.  

According to data on water availability, West Virginia and especially Raleigh County lagged behind the rest of the nation.  While three quarters (74.0 percent) of households in the US had water in 1940, nearly half (48.9 percent) in West Virginia didn’t, and almost three in five in Raleigh also lacked plumbing (57.2 percent).

West Virginia also lagged behind in educational attainment—Withers and 14.6 percent of residents had at least a high school diploma.  Meanwhile, 17.6 percent of West Virginians and 24.1 percent of Americans had at least that much schooling.

The coal mining industry dominated the area and Wither’s father was a miner.  At 8.9 percent, the unemployment rate in Raleigh was lower than that for the rest of the state (12.1 percent) and nation (10.1 percent).

Unlike most Raleigh residents, Withers enlisted in the Navy at age 17 and served for nine years.  He relocated to Los Angeles in 1967 where he began his musical career while working at an aircraft company making toilet seats for 747s.  Four years later, he won his first Grammy Award.

Hear Withers talk about West Virginia and his music in this 2007 interview from West Virginia Public Broadcasting from when he was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.  (You can also learn more about him and his visit back to his hometown in the documentary Still Bill.)

Learn more about Raleigh County and other parts of the US using Social Explorer's data resources and mapping tools.

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