When Bill Withers ‘Punk’d’ the USC Trojans Football Team

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Bill Withers with the USC Trojans, Aug. 21, 2009

In the days following Bill Withers’ passing at age 81, on March 30, 2020, several clips of the singer-songwriter’s vintage performances of such favorites as “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean on Me” began to appear on social media. But since the musician had essentially retired from the spotlight decades ago, his public appearances had become increasingly rare.

In 2009, the USC Trojans football team adopted “Lean on Me,” as their theme song for the upcoming season.

On August 21 of that year, Withers was invited to address the team, by then head coach, Pete Carroll. The singer, then around 70 years old, was introduced as a medical expert and spoke to the squad in a lecture hall about a fictitious fungus, that caused bone damage.

Soon thereafter, Withers turned the tables on the team. “Finally, what I’d like to add is,” he said, “you guys have been punk’d big time!” The players, Withers and Coach Carroll roared with laughter.

Withers ‘fessed up and told of writing “Lean on Me” decades earlier. “My name is Bill Withers,” he said, as the team broke out into a huge applause. The players then began to sing the song, and with its lyrics for inspiration, put their arms around each other.

“Don’t lose sight of this camaraderie that you have,” Withers told the team. “Don’t let this go by without recognizing that this is happening to you and for you. And lean on each other”

Watch Withers’ special moment with the USC Trojans

Carroll left USC following the 2009 season and went on to become head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, where he led them to a Super Bowl victory in 2014. When he heard of Withers’ passing, Carroll wrote, “He continues to inspire us, especially during a time we need it most… he will always reminds us to lean on each other!”

Related: Our Album Rewind of Withers’ Live at Carnegie Hall LP

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