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Updated on January 16, 2012


Donny Hathaway was a genius of music theory, a master pianist and songwriter, and possibly had the most beautiful male voice in soul music-EVER! But just as in the other musical geniuses that I have written about in past hubs, Mr. Hathaway was a troubled man who lived a very complex life.

Born on October 1st, 1945 in Chicago, Illinois, Donny Hathaway had been interested in music for his entire life. As a young child Hathaway was raised by his grandmother, Martha Pitts (Cromwell) in the Carr Square housing projects of St. Louis, Missouri. Like most other soul artists of this era, Hathaway started singing in church and became known as "Donny Pitts The Nations Youngest Gospel Singer". His grandmother, Martha Cromwell, was very well respected professional gospel singer in the St. Louis area.

As well as singing in the church choir, he also played the ukulele. After becoming fascinated by Liberace, he became interested in learning to play the piano. Soon after, while in high school, he became known as a piano prodigy and won a scholarship to Howard University; where he majored in music theory and met his future duet partner, Roberta Flack. While attending college he was part of a jazz trio called "The Rick Powell Trio". Playing with "The Rick Powell Trio" resulted in Hathaway being offered several jobs in his field. He soon left Howard University in pursuit of a career in music.


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Donny Hathaway worked for several different record companies in the beginning stages of his career,such as: Twinight, Chess, Stax, and Curtom Records. He also participated in music projects with several recording artists such as: The Unifics, The Staple Singers, Carla Thomas, Jerry Butler, Aretha Franklin, and Curtis Mayfield.

While working at Curtis Mayfields record label "Curtom Records" as a house producer, Donny recorded a duet with June Conquest called "Thank You Baby" in 1969, which became the first hit record that Hathaway had ever sang on. He also did some recording as a member of "The Mayfield Singers". After meeting King Curtis at a music fair, Curtis took him to ATCO/Atlantic Records, where Hathaway was signed as a solo artist.

His debut album, "Everything is Everything" (1970) consisted of nine tracks:

1. "Voices Inside (Everything is Everything)"
2. "Je Vous Aime (I Love You)"
3. "I Believe to My Soul"
4. "Misty"
5. "Sugar Lee"
6. "Tryin' Times"
7. "Thank You Master (For My Soul)"
8. "The Ghetto"
9. "To Be Young, Gifted and Black"

"The Ghetto" was a big hit on his debut album.

He also released a holiday single in 1970 called, "This Christmas", which has become a holiday staple that has been covered by a plethora of artists and translated into many genres.

Donny Hathaway's second album, "Donny Hathaway" (1971) contained nine tracks:

1. "Giving Up"
2. "A Song for You"
3. "Little Girl"
4. "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"
5. "Magnificent Sanctuary Band"
6. "She Is My Lady"
7. "I Believe in Music"
8. "Take a Love Song"
9. "Put Your Hand in the Hand"

"A Song For You" was a big hit on his second album.

During this time Hathaway worked on production for the Jazz/Funk group Cold Blood, and extended the vocal range of lead vocalist, Lydia Pense. He also started recording a duet album with fellow Howard University alumnus, Roberta Flack entitled "Roberts Flack and Donny Hathaway". "Where Is the Love" was an R&B success and it also scored in the top five on the pop chart in 1972. In the same year, Hathaway also sang the theme song to the television series, "Maude"; composed the soundtrack to the motion picture, "Comeback Charleston Blue", and recorded a live album called "Donny Hathaway Live!".

"Donny Hathaway Live!!!!"

1. "What's Going On"
2. "The Ghetto"
3. "Hey Girl"
4. "You've Got a Friend"
5. "Little Ghetto Boy"
6. "We're Still Friends"
7. "Jealous Guy"
8. "Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything)"

While things appeared to be in an upswing for Hathaway, as his career was off to a great start and he was married with two baby girls; Donnie began to suffer from severe depression. He often spent time in hospitals due to his condition. Because of his bouts of despair and melancholy moods, his relationship with Roberta Flack had become strained and work for next scheduled duet album was postponed for years until the 1978 release of "The Closer I Get To You". It would later be known that Donny Hathaway suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and was often heavily medicated, taking up to 14 pills at different times of the day to control his ailment.

On January 13, 1979, Donny Hathaway was found dead on the sidewalk out side of the Essex House Luxury Hotel in New York City, where he had been living. Since the glass from the window had been carefully removed and there where no signs of struggle, his death was ruled a suicide.

The last studio album that he recorded was "Extensions Of A Man" in 1973. "Extensions Of A Man" contained the single "Someday We'll All Be Free", which was written by Edward Howard about the mental pain that Hathaway was experiencing. After Hathaway recorded the song, he listened to the play back of the studio cut. Hathaway cried as he listened to the song for the first time. After Hathaway's death, this disclaimer was added to the liner notes of "Extensions Of A Man" by Edward Howard:

"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."

Howard also added:

"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.'"

"Extensions Of A Man"

1. "I Love the Lord; He Heard My Cry, Pts. 1 & 2"
2. "Someday We'll All Be Free"
3. "Flying Easy"
4. "Valdez in the Country"
5. "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know"
6. "Come Little Children"
7. "Love, Love, Love"
8. "The Slums"
9. "Magdalena"
10. "I Know It's You"
11. "Lord Help Me"

Roberta Flack, devastated by the death of her friend and duet partner, added the duets that the couple had completed prior to his death to her latest album "Roberta Flack featuring Donny Hathaway".

As I complete this hub I once again try to address the question of: can a person be "normal" and a musical genius? Most are very deep thinkers who are often labeled as introverts, eccentrics, and last but not least.....crazy. I don't think these artists are crazy at all. I do believe that they all took their art very seriously; and after they could not hear the music any more, there was no more reason to live.

I have read many articles about Donny Hathaway and they all end with a statement that resembles; "If Hathaway had lived to reach his full musical potential, who knows what he could have accomplished..." To that statement I say, "Who says that he didn't?"

Talk to you all soon!!





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    • profile image

      Michele 2 years ago

      I absolutely love Donnie Hathaway, his voice is breath taking. My father always led me to believe that he committed suicide, due to a broken affair with Roberta Flack. So I find myself doing a lot of research to confirm all the deaths of famous singers from his generation, and those who I've fallen in love with from my both my parents age. That I believe is the age of very talented artists who felt no need to sell themselves to achieve a platinum album. Your last comment, "who said he didn't", in reference to his accomplishment in his music career, says it all. Thank you for giving me an understanding to his death.

    • trusouldj profile image

      trusouldj 6 years ago from Indiana

      It's Donny's second album that does it for me. Definitly a mood enhancer. When I'm down, his voice just soothes me, like a fudge sundae from McDonald's. Now his daughter Lalah is helping to fill the void.

    • mrcoopr2010 profile image

      mrcoopr2010 7 years ago

      Straight from the heart! Keep it up, it looks nice.


    • profile image

      LEWJ 8 years ago

      This is a very good hub on an under-rated artist.

      His song "SOMEDAY WE'LL ALL BE FREE" is a masterpiece of sentiment and melody. His contribution is unique and his artistry, at its center, is a capturing of joy.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 8 years ago

      Very, very nice! Great work! Keep it up!


    • creativeone59 profile image

      benny Faye Douglass 8 years ago from Gold Canyon, Arizona

      Thank you for reminding me Of Donny Hathaway,and his beautiful music and singing, this Christmas one my favorites, and I loved I sang a song for you. thank you so much for this hub On Donny Hathaway. creativeone59

    • Rob Lattin profile image

      Rob Lattin 8 years ago from Born in Chicago, now I'm in Mostly Michigan

      Wow, you really know your stuff. "Where is the Love" was and is a great song. It's unfortunate we don't hear it too much on the radio. That song is how a duet should sound, bar none. I didn't even know Donny was from Chicago! Keep up the good work.

    • Wyldflow3r profile image

      Wyldflow3r 8 years ago

      thank you for the compliment and thank you for all of the support you give me!!!! i truly appreciate it!!!!

    • Hmrjmr1 profile image

      Hmrjmr1 8 years ago from Georgia, USA

      I wasn't familiar with his name but was of his work you mentioned, enjoyed the hub a great bit of history taught, well done.