Donny Hathaway

Donny Hathaway
Birth name Donny Edward Hathaway
Also known as Donny Pitts
Born October 1, 1945(1945-10-01)
Chicago, Illinois
Origin St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
Died January 13, 1979(1979-01-13) (aged 33)
New York, New York
Genres Chicago soul, soul, funk, pop, R&B, blues-rock
Occupations Singer, songwriter, arranger, conductor, record producer, instrumentalist
Instruments Vocals, piano, keyboards
Years active 1966–1979
Labels Curtom, Atco
Associated acts Lalah Hathaway, Roberta Flack
Notable instruments

Donny Edward Hathaway (October 1, 1945 – January 13, 1979) was an American soul singer-songwriter and musician. Hathaway contracted with Atlantic Records in 1969 and with his first single for the Atco label, "The Ghetto, Part I" in early 1970, Rolling Stone magazine "marked him as a major new force in soul music."[1]

His collaborations with Roberta Flack scored high on the charts and won him the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for the duet, "Where Is the Love" in 1973.

His body was found outside the luxury hotel Essex House in New York City; his death was ruled a suicide.


Early career

Hathaway, the son of Drusella Huntley, was born in Chicago. He lived with his grandmother, Martha Pitts, also known as Martha Crumwell, in the Carr Square housing project, in St Louis. Hathaway began singing in a church choir with his grandmother, a professional gospel singer, at the age of three. He graduated from Vashon High School in 1963. He studied music on a fine arts scholarship at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He also formed a jazz trio to work around the local area with drummer Ric Powell while there, but during 1967 left Howard without a degree, after receiving job offers in the music business.


At first, Hathaway worked as songwriter, session musician and producer. Working first at Chicago's Twinight Records, he later did the arrangements for hits by The Unifics ("Court of Love" and "The Beginning Of My End") and took part in projects by The Staple Singers, Jerry Butler, Aretha Franklin, The Impressions and Curtis Mayfield. After becoming a "house producer" for Mayfield's label, Curtom Records, he started recording there as a member of The Mayfield Singers. He recorded his first single under his own name in 1969, a duet with singer June Conquest called "I Thank You Baby". They also recorded the duet "Just Another Reason", released as the b-side. Former Cleveland Browns president Bill Futterer, a college student who promoted Curtom in the southeast in 1968 and 1969, was befriended by Hathaway and has cited Hathaway's influence on his later projects.

That year, Hathaway signed to Atco Records after being spotted for the label by producer/musician King Curtis at a trade convention. He released his first single of note, "The Ghetto, Pt. 1", which he co-wrote with former Howard roommate Leroy Hutson, who became a performer, writer and producer with Curtom. The track appeared the following year on his critically acclaimed debut LP, Everything Is Everything, which he co-produced with Ric Powell while also arranging all the cuts.

His second LP, Donny Hathaway, was also a success, but it was an album of duets with former Howard University classmate and label mate Roberta Flack that established him, especially on the pop charts. The album was both a critical and commercial success, including the Ralph MacDonald-penned track "Where Is The Love", which proved to be not only an R&B success, but also scored Top Five on the pop Hot 100.[2] The album also included a number of other covers, including versions of Carole King's "You've Got a Friend", "Baby I Love You", originally a hit for Aretha Franklin and "You've Lost That Loving Feeling".

Donny Hathaway is also known as the co-composer and performer of the Christmas standard, “This Christmas.” The song, released in 1970, has become a holiday staple and is often used in movies, television and in advertising. “This Christmas” has been covered by numerous artists across diverse musical genres, including The Whispers, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Chicago, Harry Connick, Jr., Dru Hill, *NSYNC, Gloria Estefan, Boney James,The Cheetah Girls, Chris Brown, and Anthony Arnett (First Baptist Bracktown's Christmas Celebration-2007).

Hathaway followed this flurry of work with some contributions to soundtracks, along with his recording of the theme song to the TV series Maude. He also composed and conducted music for the 1972 soundtrack of the movie Come Back Charleston Blue.[3] In the mid-1970s, he also produced albums for other artists including Cold Blood, where he expanded the musical range of lead singer Lydia Pense.

His final studio album, "Extension Of A Man" came out in 1973 with two tracks, "Love Love Love" and "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" reaching both the pop and R&B charts. However, it was probably best noted for his classic ballad, "Someday We'll All Be Free" and a six-minute symphonic-styled instrumental piece called " I Love The Lord, He Heard My Cry". He told UK music journalist David Nathan in 1973, “I always liked pretty music and I’ve always wanted to write it.” Added the writer, "He declined to give one particular influence or inspiration but said that Ravel, Debussy and Stravinsky were amongst whom he studied." [4]

He returned to the charts in 1978 after again teaming up with Roberta Flack for a duet, "The Closer I Get To You" on her album, "Blue Lights In The Basement". The song topped the R&B chart and just missed the number 1 spot on the Hot 100 (reaching #2). Atlantic then put out another solo single, "You Were Meant For Me" shortly before his sudden death.

Liner notes for later releases of his final solo album explain: "Donny is no longer here, but the song [Someday We'll All Be Free] gathers momentum as part of his legacy... Donny literally sat in the studio and cried when he heard the playback of his final mix. It's pretty special when an artist can create something that wipes them out." Edward Howard, lyricist of the song, adds, "It was a spiritual thing for me... What was going through my mind at the time was Donny, because Donny was a very troubled person. I hoped that at some point he would be released from all that he was going through. There was nothing I could do but write something that might be encouraging for him. He's a good leader for young black men"

Personal life

Hathaway met his wife, Eulaulah, at Howard University. They had two daughters, Eulaulah Donyll (Lalah Hathaway) and Kenya. Lalah has enjoyed a successful solo career, while Kenya is one of the three backing vocalists on the hit TV program American Idol.

While separated from Eulaulah, Hathaway had another daughter (not with Eulaulah) named Donnita Hathaway.

Health challenges

During the best part of his career, Hathaway began to suffer from severe bouts of depression. It was found that he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and was known to take strong medication daily to try to control the illness. However, Eulaulah Hathaway has said that her husband was frequently less than diligent about following his prescription regimen.[5] Donnita Hathaway has said that her mother gave her similar information about her father, saying that when he took his medication, he was generally fine, but that when he did not, it was impossible for her to deal with him.[5]

Over the course of the 1970s, Hathaway's mental instability wreaked havoc on his life and required several hospitalizations. The effects of his melancholia also drove a wedge in Flack and Hathaway's friendship; they did not reconcile for several years, and did not release additional music until the successful release of "The Closer I Get To You" in 1978. Flack and Hathaway then resumed studio recording to compose a second album of duets.


Sessions for a second album of duets were underway in 1979. On January 13 of that year, Hathaway began a recording session at which Eric Mercury and James Mtume were present. Mercury and Mtume each reported that although Hathaway's voice sounded good, he began behaving irrationally, seeming to be paranoid and delusional. According to Mtume, Hathaway said that "white people" were trying to kill him and had connected his brain to a machine, for the purpose of stealing his music.[5] Given Hathaway's behavior, Mercury said that he decided the recording session could not continue, so he aborted it and all of the musicians went home.[5]

Hours later, Hathaway was found dead on the sidewalk below the window of his 15th-floor room in New York's Essex House hotel. He had jumped from his balcony.[6] The glass had been neatly removed from the window and there were no signs of struggle, leading investigators to rule Hathaway's death a suicide. His friends were mystified, considering that his career had just started to pick up again, and Flack was devastated. Spurred by his death, she included the few duet tracks they had finished on her next album, Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway.

Hathaway's funeral was conducted by the Reverend Jesse Jackson.


Donny Hathaway Live, which featured noted R&B musicians Willie Weeks (bass guitar), Richard Tee (organ), Cody Clayton and Cornell Dupree (guitar), has been cited as an influence by numerous artists including Alicia Keys, Amy Winehouse, Beyoncé, George Benson, India.Arie, Jon Gibson,[1] Stevie Wonder, Brian McKnight, Anthony Hamilton, Usher, and Frank McComb are among the contemporary artists whose work echoes Hathaway's. His use of the Rhodes Piano on his early Atco R&B recordings has also influenced many Neo Soul artists & producers.

A second live album called In Performance was released in 1980 following his death and also included tracks recorded at venues in Los Angeles and New York between 1971 and 1973, showing Hathaway to be a fine stage performer. Later, in 2004, selected tracks from these two albums were added to previously unreleased live recordings for "These Songs For You, Live!!"

In Popular culture

  • Several anecdotes about Hathaway are contained in Jerry Wexler's book Rhythm and The Blues.
  • On soul group The Whispers' 1980 self-titled album, the group paid homage with "Song for Donny," written by fellow soul singer Carrie Lucas. The song was set to the melody of Hathaway's "This Christmas."
  • Dr.Dre's 1992 album The Chronic features a song "Little Ghetto Boy" which incorporates a sample of Hathaway's "Little Ghetto Boy".
  • On Jim Jones's song "Certified Gangstas", rapper The Game refers to Donny Hathaway with the lines "Blowin in the crowd like Don Hathaway"
  • In 2005, neo-soul singer songwriter guitarist, Raul Midón (Blue Note) worked with Hathaway's longtime producer Arif Mardin (known for collaborations with The Bee Gees, Chaka Khan, Bette Midler, Norah Jones, and Aretha Franklin) and created a tribute song to Hathaway called "Sittin' in the Middle."
  • Amy Winehouse refers to "Mr. Hathaway" in her song "Rehab" about depression and alcoholism.
  • On New York artist Nas's album Hip Hop Is Dead on the song "Blunt Ashes", he tells a story that includes reportedly claiming Donny Hathaway "freefell" from his balcony.
  • Hathaway's name is mentioned multiple times in rapper Common's lyrics (i.e.: "What could get me halfway calm, was this Donny Hathaway song") in "Stolen Moments Pt. II". Also, Common's duet with Lauryn Hill entitled "Retrospect for Life" contains a sample from Hathaway's "Song for You".
  • In the 2001 hit by Jay-Z "Girls, Girls, Girls" Donny Hathaway's song "Love, Love, Love" is sampled. A 1999 song called "This Life Forever", Jay-Z mentions listening to his music with the lyrics saying "bumping Donny Hathaway".
  • In 1999 Aaron Hall recorded a brief tribute version of "Someday We'll All Be Free" on the third album for his group Guy titled Guy III, with Teddy Riley and Damion Hall.
  • In September 2001, Alicia Keys performed "Someday We'll All Be Free" on the 9/11 televised tribute concert America: A Tribute to Heroes.
  • Teena Marie does a brief tribute version of "Someday We'll All Be Free" on a bonus track on the reissue of her It Must Be Magic album.
  • Rhymesayers artist Brother Ali mentions Donny Hathaway in his song, "Room with a View."
  • Soul Position mentions Hathaway in their song, "Hand-Me-Downs."
  • Talib Kweli mentions Hathaway in his songs "The Beautiful Struggle" and "Hold It Down" with Buckshot and 9th Wonder.
  • In 2007, Deniece Williams covered "Someday We'll All be Free" for her Love, Niecy Style album. Williams later shared that she broke down in tears in the studio while recording.
  • In 2008, Ed Pavlic published Winners Have Yet To Be Announced (University of Georgia Press), poems re-imagining the life of Donny Hathaway.
  • Bizzy Bone's song entitled “A Song For You,” is a track that includes an interpolation of Donny Hathaways’s original recording of the same name.
  • The song "What a Catch, Donnie", from Fall Out Boy's fifth studio album, Folie à Deux, is named for Hathaway and mentions Roberta Flack, his writing partner.
  • In November 2008, Dutch singer Gordon Heuckeroth released the album, A Song For You, with several songs by Hathaway.
  • Rapper Scarface mentions Hathaway in his song "Still Here" off of the 2008 album, Emeritus.
  • Prince mentions Hathaway's "Song For You" in his song, "Here" from the album titled MPLSound; part of a 2009 three CD release titled Lotusflower ("Donny Hathaway's 'Song 4 U' ain't the same without you here".)
  • Kanye West mentions Hathaway in his 2010 song "Power" ("All my old girls know that I'm the one that got away. I think about 'em on Christmas and play some Donny Hathaway").


Studio albums

Year Album Chart positions[7] US
Record label
1970 Everything Is Everything 73 33 Atco
1971 Donny Hathaway 89 6
1972 Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway 3 2 31 Gold Atlantic
1973 Extension of a Man 69 18 Atco
1980 Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway 25 4 Gold Atlantic
"—" denotes the album failed to chart or was not certified

Live albums

Year Album Chart positions[7] US
Record label
1972 Live 18 4 Gold Atco
1980 In Performance 201 68 Atlantic
2004 These Songs for You, Live! 78
"—" denotes the album failed to chart or was not certified

Soundtrack albums

Year Album Chart positions[7] US
Record label
1972 Come Back Charleston Blue 198 Atco
"—" denotes the album failed to chart or was not certified

Compilation albums

Year Album Chart positions[7] US
Record label
1978 The Best of Donny Hathaway 51 Atco
1990 A Donny Hathaway Collection Atlantic
2000 Free Soul: The Classic of Donny Hathaway WEA Int'l
2010 Someday We'll All Be Free Warner Music France
"—" denotes the album failed to chart or was not certified


Year Single Chart Positions[10]
1969 "I Thank You Baby" (with June Conquest) 45
1970 "The Ghetto - Part 1" 87 23
"This Christmas"
1971 "You've Got a Friend" (with Roberta Flack) 29 8 36
"You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" (with Roberta Flack) 71 30
1972 "Little Ghetto Boy" 109 25
"Giving Up" 81 21
"I Thank You" (with June Conquest) 94 41
"Where Is the Love" (with Roberta Flack) 5 1 1 29
"Come Back Charleston Blue" (with Margie Joseph) 102
"I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" 60 20
1973 "Love, Love, Love" 44 16
"Come Little Childern" 67
1978 "The Closer I Get to You" (with Roberta Flack) 2 1 3 42
"You Were Meant for Me" 17
1980 "You Are My Heaven" (with Roberta Flack) 47 8 46
"Back Together Again" (with Roberta Flack) 56 8 3
"—" denotes the single failed to chart


External links

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