Introduction and Early Life:
Donny Hathaway was an American singer-songwriter, musician, arranger and record producer. Known for his suave, amorous vocals, he has worked across diverse genres such as jazz, blues, soul, R&B and gospel. Hathaway has influenced various soul singers and musicians, including Richard Smallwood and Musiq Soulchild.
Born “Donny Edward Hathaway” into a poor household in Chicago, Illinois in 1945, he belonged to a musical family. His grandmother, Martha Pitts, was a professional gospel singer. Hathaway showed early talent in music and started singing in a church choir with his grandmother at the tender age of three. He studied music on a fine arts scholarship at Howard University in Washington, D.C, where he was a classmate of his future collaborator Roberta Flack.
Career and Musical Achievements:
Donny Hathaway formed his first jazz group, The Ric Powell Trio, while he was still a student. After dropping out, he relocated to Chicago in the late 1960s and started working as songwriter, producer and session musician. Hathaway produced various sessions for renowned artists such as Jerry Butler, The Impressions, Pop Staples, and Curtis Mayfield. With the efforts of King Curtis, he secured a recording contract with Atlantic Records as a songwriter and solo recording artist in 1969.
An expressive soul singer and an exceptional pianist, Hathaway’s unique style incorporated elements of gospel, soul, and classical music. His debut album, Everything Is Everything (1970), reached number 73 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart and number 33 on the Billboard R&B Albums chart. His second album, Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway (1971), featured a cover version of Carole King’s ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ which peaked at number 29 on the Billboard Hot 100, and number 8 on the R&B chart. A few of his other hits included “Where Is the Love”, “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know”, and “Love, Love, Love”.
By the mid 1970s, Hathaway established himself as one of the most in-demand producers on the planet, and worked with artists such as Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, and Carla Thomas. He recorded his last pop hit, a duet with Roberta Flack, “The Closer I Get To You”, in 1978. Hathaway was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at the peak of his career.
He died in 1979 after jumping from a 15th floor window of the Essex House Hotel in New York City. Hathaway was only 33 years old at the time of his death.
Awards and Accolades:
In 1973, Donny Hathaway won the Grammy Award for “Where Is the Love”, his 1972 duet with Roberta Flack. He is ranked #49 on Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Singers Of All Time”.
Donny Hathaway knew his future wife, Eulaulah, from Howard University. The couple had two daughters, Lalah Hathaway and Kenya Hathaway.