Donny Hathaway

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Donny Hathaway
Background information
Birth nameDonny Edward Hathaway
Also known asDonny Pitts
Born(1945-10-01)October 1, 1945
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Origin St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
DiedJanuary 13, 1979(1979-01-13) (aged 33)
New York City, New York, U.S.
  • Musician
  • singer
  • songwriter
  • Vocals
  • keyboards
Years active1967–1979
Associated acts

Donny Edward Hathaway (October 1, 1945 – January 13, 1979) was an American soul singer, keyboardist, songwriter, and arranger. Hathaway signed with Atlantic Records in 1969 and with his first single for the Atco label, "The Ghetto", in early 1970, Rolling Stone magazine "marked him as a major new force in soul music." [1] His enduring songs include "The Ghetto", "This Christmas", "Someday We'll All Be Free", "Little Ghetto Boy", "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know", signature versions of "A Song for You", "For All We Know", "Where Is the Love" and "The Closer I Get to You", two of many collaborations with Roberta Flack. "Where Is the Love" won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals in 1973. At the height of his career, Hathaway was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. [2] On January 13, 1979, Hathaway's body was found outside the luxury hotel Essex House in New York City; his death was ruled as suicide.

Atlantic Records American record label

Atlantic Recording Corporation is an American record label founded in October 1947 by Ahmet Ertegün and Herb Abramson. Over its first 20 years of operation, Atlantic earned a reputation as one of the most important American labels, specializing in jazz, R&B, and soul by Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave, Ruth Brown and Otis Redding. Its position was greatly improved by its distribution deal with Stax. In 1967, Atlantic became a wholly owned subsidiary of Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, now the Warner Music Group, and expanded into rock and pop music with releases by Led Zeppelin and Yes.

"The Ghetto" is a socially conscious, mostly instrumental jazz-flavored anthem, released as the first single off American soul singer Donny Hathaway's debut album, Everything Is Everything, released as a single in 1970 on Atlantic Records.

This Christmas (Donny Hathaway song) song performed by Donny Hathaway

"This Christmas" is a song by American soul musician Donny Hathaway released in 1970 by Atco Records. The song gained renewed interest when it was included in 1991 on Atco Records' revised edition of their 1968 Soul Christmas compilation album and has since become a modern Christmas standard, with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers reporting that it was the 30th most-performed holiday song of all time.


Early life

Hathaway, the son of Drusella Huntley, was born in Chicago but raised with his grandmother, Martha Pitts, also known as Martha Crumwell, in the Carr Square housing project of St. Louis. Hathaway began singing in a church choir with his grandmother, a professional gospel singer, at the age of three and studying piano. He graduated from Vashon High School in 1963. [3] Hathaway then studied music on a fine arts scholarship at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he met close friend Roberta Flack. At Howard, he was also a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Hathaway formed a jazz trio with drummer Ric Powell while there but during 1967 left Howard just before completing a degree, after receiving job offers in the music business. [2]

St. Louis Independent city in the United States

St. Louis is an independent city and major inland port in the U.S. state of Missouri. It is situated along the western bank of the Mississippi River, which marks Missouri's border with Illinois. The Missouri River merges with the Mississippi River just north of the city. These two rivers combined form the fourth longest river system in the world. The city had an estimated 2017 population of 308,626 and is the cultural and economic center of the St. Louis metropolitan area, which is the largest metropolitan area in Missouri, the second-largest in Illinois, and the 22nd-largest in the United States.

Vashon High School

Vashon High School is a public high school located in St. Louis, Missouri that is part of the St. Louis Public Schools. When it opened in 1927, it was the second high school for black students in St. Louis. Since 1934, the school has won 14 state basketball championships – six as a member of the Missouri Negro Interscholastic Athletic Association and then eight as a member of the Missouri State High School Activities Association.


Hathaway worked as songwriter, session musician and producer for Curtis Mayfield's Curtom Records in Chicago. He 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 himself. After becoming a "house producer" at Curtom, he also started recording there. Hathaway 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, who as a college student promoted Curtom in the southeast in 1968 and 1969, was befriended by Hathaway and has cited Hathaway's influence on his later projects.

Curtis Mayfield American singer, songwriter, and record producer

Curtis Lee Mayfield was an American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and record producer, and one of the most influential musicians behind soul and politically conscious African-American music. He first achieved success and recognition with The Impressions during the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and 1960s, and later worked as a solo artist.

Curtom Records

Curtom Records was a record label started in 1968 by Curtis Mayfield and Impressions manager Eddie Thomas. The label's name was a combination of Mayfield's first name and Thomas' last name. Mayfield had previously made attempts at a record label with the "Mayfield" and "Windy C" labels.

The Unifics were an American soul group from Washington, D.C..

That year, Hathaway signed to Atco Records, then a division of Atlantic 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 , consisted mostly of covers of contemporary pop, soul, and gospel songs. His third album Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway was an album of duets with former Howard University associate 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. [4] It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA on September 5, 1972. [5] 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".

ATCO Records is an American record company and label founded in 1955 as a division of Atlantic Records. It was devised as an outlet for productions by one of Atlantic's founders, Herb Abramson, who had returned to the company from military service. It was also intended as a home for acts that did not fit the format of Atlantic, which was releasing blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, and soul. The Atco name is an abbreviation of ATlantic COrporation. Atco also provided distribution for other labels, including RSO Records, Volt, Island, Modern, Ruthless, and Rolling Stones Records.

King Curtis American saxophonist

Curtis Ousley, who performed under the stage name King Curtis, was an American saxophonist known for rhythm and blues, rock and roll, soul, blues, funk and soul jazz. Variously a bandleader, band member, and session musician, he was also a musical director and record producer. Adept at tenor, alto, and soprano saxophone, he played riffs and solos on such hit singles as "Respect" by Aretha Franklin, and "Yakety Yak" by The Coasters and his own "Memphis Soul Stew".

Leroy Hutson is an American soul and R&B singer, songwriter, arranger, producer and instrumentalist, best known as former lead singer of R&B vocal group The Impressions.

Perhaps Hathaway's most influential recording is his 1972 album, Live , which has been termed "one of the best live albums ever recorded" by Daryl Easlea of the BBC. [6] The album can also be found on the British online music and culture magazine The Quietus' list of "40 Favourite Live Albums". [7] It was recorded at two concerts: side one at The Troubadour in Hollywood, and side two at The Bitter End in Greenwich Village, Manhattan.

<i>Live</i> (Donny Hathaway album) live album by Donny Hathaway

Live is a 1972 live album by American soul artist Donny Hathaway. It was recorded at two concerts: side one at The Troubadour in Hollywood, and side two at The Bitter End in Greenwich Village, Manhattan.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters are at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London, and it is the world's oldest national broadcasting organisation and the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees. It employs over 20,950 staff in total, 16,672 of whom are in public sector broadcasting. The total number of staff is 35,402 when part-time, flexible, and fixed-contract staff are included.

The Quietus is a British online music and pop culture magazine, focusing on arts news, reviews, and features. The site is an editorially independent publication led by John Doran and a group of freelance journalists and critics, some of whom have worked for other media outlets.

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 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, Alexander O'Neal, Christina Aguilera, Chicago, Harry Connick, Jr., Dru Hill, *NSYNC, Gloria Estefan, Boney James, The Cheetah Girls, Chris Brown, Anthony Arnett (First Baptist Bracktown Christmas Celebration), Patti LaBelle and Mary J Blige (A Mary Christmas, album 2013), Seal, and Train.

Diana Ross American vocalist, music artist and actress

Diana Ross is an American singer, actress, and record producer. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Ross rose to fame as the lead singer of the vocal group the Supremes, which, during the 1960s, became Motown's most successful act, and are the best charting girl group in US history, as well as one of the world's best-selling girl groups of all time. The group released a record-setting twelve number-one hit singles on the US Billboard Hot 100, including "Where Did Our Love Go", "Baby Love", "Come See About Me", "Stop! In the Name of Love", "You Can't Hurry Love", "You Keep Me Hangin' On", "Love Child", and "Someday We'll Be Together".

Patti LaBelle American singer-songwriter and actress

Patti LaBelle is an American singer, actress, and entrepreneur. LaBelle began her career in the early 1960s as lead singer and front woman of the vocal group, Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles. Following the group's name change to Labelle in the early 1970s, they released the iconic disco song "Lady Marmalade" and the group later became the first African-American vocal group to land the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

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 . [8] 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." [9]

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 and they married in 1967. [2] They had two daughters, Eulaulah Donyll (Lalah) and Kenya. Lalah Hathaway has enjoyed a successful solo career, while Kenya is a session singer and one of the three backing vocalists on the hit TV program American Idol . Both daughters are graduates of the Berklee College of Music. Donny also has a third daughter, Donnita Hathaway.

Mental illness

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. [2] 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. [2] Over the course of the 1970s, Hathaway's mental instability wreaked havoc on his life and required several hospitalizations. The effects of his depression and melancholia also drove a wedge in his and Flack'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.


Essex House hotel Jumeirah Essex House May 2008.JPG
Essex House hotel

Sessions for another album of duets were underway in 1979. On January 13 of that year, Hathaway began a recording session at which producers/musicians 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 and his sound. [2] 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. [2]

Hours later, Hathaway was found dead on the sidewalk below the window of his 15th-floor room in New York's Essex House hotel. It was reported that he had jumped from his balcony. [10] The glass had been neatly removed from the window and there were no signs of struggle, leading investigators to rule that Hathaway's death was a suicide. However, his friends were mystified, considering that his career had just entered a resurgence. Flack was devastated and, spurred by his death, included the few duet tracks they had finished on her next album, Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway . According to Mercury, Hathaway's final recording, included on that album, was "You Are My Heaven", a song Mercury co-wrote with Stevie Wonder.

Hathaway's funeral was conducted by the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Later in 1979, the Whispers recorded the tribute song, "Song for Donny", for their self-titled breakthrough album. The song reached #21 on the R&B chart. That same year, they used that tribute song's arrangement to do a cover of Hathaway’s song "This Christmas," turning the uptempo Christmas gem into a classic, sentimental love song, a staple of their well-received "Happy Holidays To You" Christmas album.


According to Allison Keyes from NPR, Hathaway's solo recordings are "part of the foundation of American soul music" and have "influenced performers from R&B singers Alicia Keys & Aaliyah to rapper Common to singer-guitarist George Benson". [11] He was named the 49th greatest singer of all time in a 2010 list published by Rolling Stone . [12] Justin Timberlake called him "the best singer of all time." [12] Raúl Midón said that Hathaway is "the strongest soul singer that ever existed" and compares his vocal technique to a classical vocalist. [11] "When Donny sings any song, he owns it," Stevie Wonder was quoted by David Ritz as saying. [13] Amy Winehouse called Hathaway her favorite artist of all time. [14]

Most rock critics during the 1970s found Hathaway's music largely inscrutable; Robert Christgau once called it "bourgeoisification at its genteel worst". The critic later regarded him as "a synthesizer of limitless cultural aspiration" who "conveyed a sense of roots" and was never content with "the classbound pop fantasies of Ashford & Simpson", but mused that "the idealistic credulousness of a project that incorporated pop, jazz, a little blues, lots of gospel, and the conservatory into an all-over black style is linked to the floridity that mars much of his work." [15]


Studio albums

YearAlbumChart positions [16] US
Record label
UK [18]
1970 Everything Is Everything 7333 Atco
1971 Donny Hathaway 896
1972 Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway 3231Gold Atlantic
1973 Extension of a Man 6918Atco
1980 Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway 254GoldAtlantic
"—" denotes the album failed to chart or was not certified

Live albums

YearAlbumChart positions [16] US
Record label
1972 Live 184Gold Atco
1980In Performance20168 Atlantic
2004 These Songs for You, Live! 78
2014Live at the Bitter End, 1971
"—" denotes the album failed to chart or was not certified

Soundtrack albums

YearAlbumChart positions [16] US
Record label
1972 Come Back Charleston Blue 198 Atco
"—" denotes the album failed to chart or was not certified

Compilation albums

YearAlbumChart positions [16] US
Record label
1972The Most Beautiful Songs of Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway Atlantic
1978The Best of Donny Hathaway51 Atco
1990A Donny Hathaway CollectionAtlantic
2000Free Soul: The Classic of Donny Hathaway WEA Int'l
2010Someday We'll All Be FreeAtlantic
Original Album Series
2011Flashback with Donny HHathaway
2013Never My Love: The AnthologyAtco
"—" denotes the album failed to chart or was not certified


YearSingleChart Positions [19]
UK [18]
1969"I Thank You Baby" (with June Conquest)45
1970"The Ghetto – Part 1"8723
"This Christmas"
1971"You've Got a Friend" (with Roberta Flack)29836
"You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" (with Roberta Flack)7130
1972"Little Ghetto Boy"10925
"Giving Up"8121
"I Thank You" (re-release) (with June Conquest)9441
"Where Is the Love" (with Roberta Flack)51129
"Come Back Charleston Blue" (with Margie Joseph)102
"I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know"6020
1973"Love, Love, Love"4416
"Come Little Children"67
1978"The Closer I Get to You" (with Roberta Flack)21342
"You Were Meant for Me"17
1980"You Are My Heaven" (with Roberta Flack)47846
"Back Together Again" (with Roberta Flack)5683
"—" denotes the single failed to chart or was not certified

With Phil Upchurch


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