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Donny Edward Hathaway

October 1,1945 to January 13, 1979

 

Donny Edward Hathaway (October 1, 1945 – January 13, 1979) was an American jazz, blues, soul, and gospel vocalist 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.” 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 Vocals for the duet, “Where Is the Love” in 1973. At the height of his career Hathaway was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was known to not take his prescribed medication regularly enough to properly control his symptoms.[citation On January 13, 1979, Hathaway’s body was found outside the luxury hotel Essex House in New York City; his death was ruled a suicide

 

 

Donny was the son of Drusella Huntley, he 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. He graduated from Vashon High School in 1963. He then studied music on a fine arts scholarship at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he was a classmate and close friend of Roberta Flack and a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. 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.

 

Donny 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, 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.

His second LP, Donny, consisted mostly of covers of contemporary pop, soul, and gospel songs. His third album Roberta Flack & Donny 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 “Where Is The Love”, which proved to be not only an R&B success, but also scored Top Five on the pop Hot 100. Perhaps Donny’s most influential recording is his 1972 album, Live, which has been termed one of the best live albums ever recorded.

Donny 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. Donny 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”.

“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.”

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

Donny was married he met his wife, Eulaulah, at Howard University. They had two daughters, Eulaulah Donyll (Lalah Hathaway) an Kenya. Lalah has enjoyed a successful solo career, while Kenya is one of the three backing vocalists on the hit TV program American Idol. He also had another daughter, 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 to control the illness. Over the course of the 1970s, Donny’s mental instability wreaked havoc on his life and required several hospitalizations. The effects of his depression 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. Roberta and Donny did do another studio recording to compose a second album of duets. The sessions for a ninth album of duets were underway in 1979. On January 13 of that year.

During the recording of the new duet album, Donny Hathaway stated 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. The staff he worked with believed he was delusional but was still able to sing and to retain notes and words for the songs. The staff disbanded and left stating they could not work with him under those conditions.

On January 13, 1979 at the age of 33 A few hours later after the session had departed Donny Hathaway was found dead on the sidewalk at the bottom of his apartment building where he resided on the 15th floor in the Essex House hotel. It has been stated that he jumped from his balcony. The glass had been neatly removed from the window and there were no signs of struggle, leading investigators to rule that this case was a suicide. His friends were in shock considering he was about to make a come back.

It is very interesting to know that Donny Hathaway who was on strong medication was able to remove a window neatly without making a sound that is weird because to remove a window you would have to use some force and instrument which would make a lot of noise and it would probably disturb the other hotel guests. Another interesting note is no one was around at the time to assist him in his daily routines being that he had to take these medications. It is just very interesting also when he was about to make a great comeback.

Mr. Donny Hathaway’s funeral was conducted by the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Later in 1979 he is laid to rest at Lake Charles Park Cemetery , Bel-Nor St. Louis County, Missouri.

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