Life has been an uphill struggle for Maurice Withers.
“I was in trouble for most of my life … since I was 13-14 years old. I grew up on the east side in Darbo. They used to call it ‘Little Africa’ back then,” Withers remembers. “My dad went to prison before I was born for armed robbery. It was me and my mom on the streets, basically. She was in trouble all of the time.
“I started to get in trouble and doing drugs,” Withers adds. “All in all, I was in and out of prison for over 20 years.”
Withers has gone to prison nine times in all … but he is now determined – and he feels like he finally has the support structures in place – that there won’t be a 10th time.
“When you get out and you don’t have a support system, you don’t have money and you don’t have options, it’s so difficult because there are so many hurdles you have to jump – especially if you’re on probation or parole,” Withers tells Madison365 in an interview at Cargo Coffee on South Park St. “It’s easy to give up for a lot of people. I did that so many times. I just gave up on myself because I didn’t have the patience and the support system I have now.
“I have people accounting on me and they believe in me so that makes a big difference,” he adds. “If you don’t have anybody believing in you, it’s hard.”
And Withers has his music which has been his focus since he first decided in December of 2018 that he never wanted to go back to jail again. Withers is a singer, rapper, songwriter, dancer, and all-around entertainer.
“Right now, the music I make is family fun, good dance music,” he says. “I have the Green Bay Packers song and I’m working on some jingles for Culvers and McDonalds. I’m working on an NBA song for the Bucks.
“I’ve been working with Greg Doby and Leotha Stanley, I see him at the Fatherhood Program at the Urban League,” he continues. “They’ve been helping me quite a bit. I’m thankful for my supports – Urban League and MUM [Madison area Urban Ministry], Jessie Crawford Recovery [Center].
Withers has recently released a demo copy of that Green Bay Packers song he speaks of titled “How We Play,” and he hands me a copy of it before making his way over to the five Madison police officers sitting at the table adjacent to us at Cargo Coffee on South Park Street and handing them copies, too.
“Hope you enjoy it!” he tells the police officers.
“‘How We Play’ is about how we play outside the field and how they play inside,” Withers explains, turning back to me at our table. “Hopefully this Green Bay Packer song we will all be singing at Lambeau Field. It will be nice to have 70,000 people singing it live.
“I’ve always been a fan of the Green Bay Packers since way back in the day – Brett Favre fanatic,” he continues. “My ex-wife and my kids lived up there and I went to a bunch of games up there. I lived up there for about five years – not far from Lambeau. With this latest song, I felt I wanted to write something a little different, put a little spin on a Packer song. I have a dance that goes with it, so I’m trying to get the YouTube
So far, he’s made a bunch of copies and he’s been getting to know people in the music and entertainment business. “It’s still at the demo stage. This is my first time really pursuing my music career … seriously,” Withers says.
Withers had musical talent and a knack for entertaining ever since he was a youngster growing up on Madison’s east and south sides.
“I was doing all the talent shows when I was younger. The breakdance group [Soul Patrol] kinda took off,” he says. “That was back in the ‘80s. I went to Madison East High School. Our break dance group performed everywhere – southside block party and the dances.”
Were you rivals with Johnny Winston’s Fresh Force rap group that was famous at the same time and performed at various talent shows and block parties throughout Wisconsin and Illinois?
“Johnny’s my first cousin. He had his group. We had our own team,” Withers remembers. “Edith Hilliard was our manager. Those were fun times.”
Withers was featured on the old youth-centric Club TNT show from back in the day that aired on Madison-area TV on Saturday mornings (and still does today). Gaddi Ben Dan, the executive producer of Club TNT, remembers Withers’ talent from back in the day and continues to help him with his music career – and his life – today.
“I see Gaddi twice a week. He’s been a big influence on me and my life. He helps keep me busy. He has been there for me when I need him,” Withers says.
“The race is not given to the fast or swift nor the victory to the strong, but to them who stay in the race shall reap the blessing of the creator,” Dan, the winner of the 2018 Madison and Dane County MLK Humanitarian Award, tells Madison365. “Brother Maurice is committed to staying focused on his goals and I have faith he will be successful in all of his righteous pursuits.”
Those who are released from correctional facilities far too often receive little preparation and inadequate assistance and resources, which makes their re-entry into communities extremely challenging. But Dan believes in Withers. And so do many others in the community. Withers cites the Jessie Crawford Recovery Center and Madison-area Urban Ministry as a big inspiration to keep him on the right path.
“They’ve really helped me get adapted to being out there and living on my own. You have to learn almost everything all over in a whole different way,” he says. “It’s really difficult. Last July, was when I felt like I needed to turn things around. But, really, in December was when I said to myself, ‘I just can’t have another year of doing drugs and being in and out of jail.’
“I’ve been to prison nine different times – just doing dumb stuff. But I had a major drug problem back then,” he adds. “When I started to see kids that I grew up with and my own kids going to prison – I have two kids in prison right now. That’s what really made me want to turn things around – seeing my own kids follow me to prison made me pretty sad.”
Withers is serious about never going back. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, he is at Jessie Crawford Recovery Center, which provides sober housing, case management and treatment services for men and women that struggle with mental health and/or substance abuse disorders. Withers sees a counselor/psychologist at the Family Center on Fridays.
“On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I am at the Urban League and MUM and with the Fatherhood Program where I talk with Leotha Stanley, John Givens, and James Hawk,” he says.
“It gives me a place to go and it lets me be around all of these people who are positive … So that helps,” he adds. “I can’t no longer be around people who are just partying all day and getting nowhere. I’m too old for that.”
Withers says that he’s early now to all of his appointments whereas, in the past, he would always be late. “I was waiting for you today,” he laughs, “as you saw earlier.”
He credits his manager and promoter – and wife – Julie Hall (Mz Daizy) in keeping him motivated and being his inspiration.
“Julie was the first one to get my songs played on WORT back in the day. She inspires me so much. She keeps me getting to my appointments and she has incredible patience,” Withers says. “She motivates me to get my life together. She believes in me. It’s good to have somebody believe in you.”
Withers performs and entertains under the moniker “Bingo Bayb.” Where did that come from?
“I was always lucky when I was little so everybody would be like ‘bingo!’ or ‘jackpot!’ and then Babe is my grandfather’s middle name,” Withers says. “His name was Babe Withers.”
Withers uncle, Ed Withers, was the first African-American all-American for the Wisconsin Badgers back in 1947. “My grandparents – Bill and Elaine Withers – were featured on the cover of Ebony Magazine 1957,” Withers says. “They said my grandfather was the next best thing because he was so good at sports – basketball and football.”
Withers was recently on Haywood Simmon’s Tuesday edition of the “8 O’Clock Buzz” on WORT 89.9 FM talking about his redemptive story and playing samples of his “How We Play” single.
“Music is universal … It moves you,” he told Simmons during the interview.
“Yeah, I did say that. It’s true,” Withers says. “And I was just thinking that if maybe my son in prison could hear some of the songs I’m making that he would want to change while he’s there and not be so mad at everyone.
“I feel like I’ve gotten this second chance and I want to use my music to speak to people and I want to use my music to uplift people and make them feel better,” Withers continues. “There are so many people out there like I’ve been most of my life thinking they have no hope. Music can take you to another place sometimes. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Within the next two months, Withers says that he will have his music online and in stores.
“I’m still learning how to promote my music on social media and get it out to the masses,” Withers says. “I see myself making music, writing music, entertaining, coming up with music that lasts past my lifetime. I want something that will be here forever.”
In the meantime, Withers says he is going to keep his positive vibe going and keep surrounding himself with people that will keep him on his redemptive path. He has made a lot of mistakes in his life, but he’s hoping that he can still be a positive inspiration to young people.
“I know there are a lot of young people out there going through now what I’ve been going through most of my life,” he says. “I just want them to find their passion in life and focus on loving people … stop hatin’. We need to stop the violence and stop shooting each other; especially these young black kids who are shooting at each other because they have no hope and they don’t care. They don’t have respect.
“Find your passion and find what you are best at. If I can do it, anybody can,” he adds. “There are a lot of roadblocks, but you have to just keep on going. Find your way. The odds are stacked against you. For most people, if you don’t have that support system and you’re not keeping that sobriety together, it’s almost impossible to make it. I didn’t think I would make it to 18 and here I am now. And I’m just getting started. I hope I can be an inspiration to other people.”