Donny Hathaway Biography
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." 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. Six years later, his body was found outside the luxury hotel Essex House in New York City; his death was ruled a suicide.
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. 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., *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. 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 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".
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.
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 and control the illness. However, Eulaulah Hathaway has said that her husband was frequently less than diligent about following his prescription regimen. 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.
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. 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.
Hours later, Hathaway was found dead on the sidewalk below the window of his 15th-floor room in New York's Essex House hotel. 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.
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), Phil Upchurch and Cornell Dupree (guitar), has been cited as an influence by numerous artists including Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, George Benson, India.Arie and 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!!"