Donny Hathaway

Donny Edward Hathaway (, 1945 ??? , 1979) was an African-American soul musician. He contracted with Atlantic Records in 1969, and with his first single "The Ghetto, Part I" (1970), Rolling Stone magazine "marked him as a major new force in soul music." His collaborations with Roberta Flack scored #1 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. On , 1979, 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 St. Louis' Carr Square housing project. Hathaway began singing in a church choir with his grandmother, a professional gospel singer, at the age of 3. He also played the ukulele and, fascinated by Liberace, began studying piano as a child. Hathaway began singing professionally as "Donny Pitts, The Nation's Youngest Gospel Singer". By the time he was a student at Vashon High School in St. Louis, he was known as a piano prodigy, which earned him a fine-arts scholarship to Howard University in 1964 where he was initiated into Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity into the Beta chapter in Spring of 1965. He attended Howard for three years and performed with The Ric Powell Trio, a jazz trio. Hathaway received so many job offers that he left Howard without a degree during 1967.


At first, Hathaway worked as songwriter, session musician and producer. Working first at Chicago's Twinight Records, he later did the arrangements for The Unifics ("Court of Love" and "The Beginning Of My End") and participated in projects by The Staple Singers, Jerry Butler and Aretha Franklin, as well as with 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 b-side of a reissue of that first single.

Hathaway then signed to Atco Records, which released his first single of note, "The Ghetto, Pt. 1". His debut LP was Everything Is Everything (1970), which was critically acclaimed. His second album, Donny Hathaway, was a success. He also recorded an album of duets with former Howard University classmate and label mate Roberta Flack. 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 Rhythm&Blues success, but also scored Top Five on the popular music charts. . The album also included a number of other covers, including versions of Carole King's "You've Got a Friend" and "Baby I Love You", originally a hit for Aretha Franklin.

Donnie Hathaway is perhaps best 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 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, Chicago, Harry Connick, Jr., *NSYNC, Gloria Estefan, Boney James and the Cheetah Girls.

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.

The liner notes of his final album, Extension of a Man explain: "Donny is no longer here, but the song gathers momentum as part of his legacy... Donny literally sat int he 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.'"

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 have taken up to 14 pills two to three times per day to control this disease. This condition wreaked havoc on his life and required several hospitalizations.

The effects of Hathaway's melancholia also drove a wedge into Flack and Hathaway's friendship; they did not reconcile for several years, and did not release additional music until the 1978 release of "The Closer I Get To You". The single became a popular and R&B hit, and Flack and Hathaway resumed studio recording to compose a second album of duets thereafter.


On , 1979, Hathaway was found dead on the sidewalk in front of the Essex House in New York City, where he had been living. His body did not have any indication of struggle, and the glass from the window in Hathaway's room had been removed; investigators determined Hathaway had committed suicide. Friends, fans, and the media were mystified at his death, since his career and his partnership with Flack were improving. Flack was devastated by his death, and included the few duet tracks they had finished on her next album. The Reverend Jesse Jackson conducted Hathaway's funeral, which was attended by many notable people, including Flack and Stevie Wonder. He was buried in Lake Charles Cemetery in Bel-Nor, Missouri.

Family & Personal Life

Hathaway met his wife, Eulaulah, at Howard University. They had two daughters, Eulaulah Donyll (Lalah Hathaway) and Kenya Canelibra. 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 named Donnita Hathaway.


Hathaway's Donny Hathaway Live, which featured noted R&B musicians Willie Weeks (bass guitar) and Cornell Dupree (guitar), has been cited as an influence by numerous artists including Alicia Keys, George Benson, India.Arie and Stevie Wonder, Brian McKnight, Anthony Hamilton, 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.

Hathaway was considered an eccentric by many. He cultivated many unusual interests, and was a devotee of mid-20th century French classical composers. 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 "A Song for Donny," written by fellow soul singer Carrie Lucas. The song was set to the melody of Hathaway's "This Christmas."
On Jim Jones's song "Certified Gangstas", rapper The Game refers to Donny Hathaway with the lines "blowin in the crowd like Don Hathaway"
He was a major influence on the singing style of singer-guitarist George Benson.
In 2005, neo-soul singer songwriter guitarist, Raul Mid??n (Blue Note) worked with Hathaway's longtime producer Arif Mardin (known for collaborations with The Bee Gees, Chaka Khan, Bette Midler, Norah Jones & 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 NY 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. 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.
Aaliyah covered Hathaway's single Giving up.
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.
2008, Ed Pavlic published "Winners Have Yet To Be Announced" (University of Georgia Press), poems reimagining the life of Donny Hathaway.
Bizzy Bone's song entitled ???A Song For You,??? is a poignant 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 a Deux, is named for him and mentions Roberta Flack, his writing partner.
In November 2008 the famous Dutch singer, Gordon Heuckeroth, made an album, called: A Song For You, with several songs by Hathaway.
Rapper Scarface mentions Hathaway in his song "Still Here" off of the "Emeritus" album released in 2008.
American Idol connection
Modern R&B singer and 2003 American Idol winner Ruben Studdard grew up with Hathaway's music, and did cover versions of the Hathaway songs "For All We Know" and "This Christmas."
Another American Idol contestant, 2006 second runner-up Elliott Yamin, was a fan of Hathaway and also grew up with his music. Yamin covered Leon Russell's "A Song for You", popularized by Hathaway, in his audition, during Hollywood Week and again during the show's primetime performances, as well as in front of a crowd at the baseball stadium during his visit back home (when he was eliminated, his final video clips segued through several of the performances). After the , 2006 show in which Yamin performed "A Song for You" and said he wanted to return the "spotlight" to Donny Hathaway, sales of A Donny Hathaway Collection shot all the way up to twenty-third on the CD sales chart, with some commenters citing the performance as their reason for buying Hathaway's CD. Later on the competition, on , Yamin performed Ray Charles's "I Believe to My Soul", stating he was singing Hathaway's version. In December 2006, Yamin also released a cover of "This Christmas", and Yamin's March 2007 self-titled debut album featured a cover of "A Song for You".
Hathaway's daughter, Kenya, is a backup singer in the house band for American Idol.
Season 6 finalist Chris Richardson auditioned with Hathaway's "A Song for You."
In Season 7, Chikezie performed Hathaway's "I Believe to My Soul".
In Season 8, during the semi-final round Ricky Braddy performed Leon Russell's "A Song for You" which was popularized by Hathaway

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Original Wikipedia article: Hathaway