Soul singer/Songwriter Donny Hathaway’s life and untimely death are both shrouded in mystery.
Though artists like Stevie Wonder, Amy Winehouse, and Aretha Franklin have called him an influence, there is very little biographical work about him. I sat down with Emily Lordi, author of “Donny Hathaway Live”. Lordi’s recent book uses the album of the same name as a jumping off point for uncovering Hathaway’s legacy and his unique contributions to 20th century popular music.
Donny Hathaway was born in Chicago and raised in St. Louis. Early in his career, he returned to Chicago. During that time period, roughly from 1968 until about 1971, Donny was very prolific. In this hour of Reclaimed Soul, Ayana Contreras explores Donny Hathaway’s early work arranging and writing for other artists in Chicago: from Albertina Walker, Syl Johnson, and Curtis Mayfield, to The Five Stairsteps and Little Milton. We’ll also hear some of his classics, compositions, and some of his very first recordings.
A short piece on one of my favorite artists of all time. He was an amazing vocalist, as well as an expert arranger. In fact, the majority of songs on his Greatest Hits compilation album were popularized by someone else in completely different forms (i.e. “Giving Up” and “A Song For You”). Featuring audio from a rare interview of Donny from the mid 1970s.
(photos: Labor Day 1936 at 31st Street Beach, Chicago) found at bvikkivintage
I love “I’ll Never Forget You” by Nolan Chance. Released here in Chicago in 1969, its creation was a collaboration between Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway, and Leroy Hutson (arguably the patron saints of Chicago Soul for the decade that was to come). The song has aural dream sequences: One moment, Nolan is reminiscing the sand-in-shoes good times spent with his lost love. The music is floaty, featuring dreamy keys and a güiro, the same scraping percussion instrument in the Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk”.
The next moment, Nolan is snapped back into reality and the music features rhythmic, ebbing horns that recede like the tide. It makes me want to go to the beach. Enjoy the pictures and the music….
NOTE: Nolan Chance (born Charles David) was raised in LaGrange, IL, and was at one time a member of the Artistics. Another record of his that I picked up based on my love for “I’ll Never Forget You” is “I’d Like to Make it With You”, the B-side of “Sara Lee” (released in 1972, and NOT the same song as the similarly titled “Make it With You” by Bread). Great sassy Chicago brass and pulsating rhythm. Jive on.
Performing below (in Ghana, circa 1971) is Roberta Flack. She is singing “Gone Away”… a cool, loping soul record from her album “Chapter Two”. This record was written by the one-two-three Chicago-bred punch of Leroy Hutson, Curtis Mayfield, and Donny Hathaway (before his own breakout single “The Ghetto”). “Gone Away” was also recorded by The Impressions and Lovelace Watkins (in a Chicago recording session) around the same time, 1970. Look for the crescendo around 3:00 (sampled for T.I.’s hit “Whatchu Know About It”). Jive on!
Hutson collaborated with Hathaway on “The Ghetto”, a smash 1970 hit (Hathaway’s first).
In 1971, three months out of college, Hutson replaced Curtis Mayfield as lead singer of The Impressions. He recorded two albums with the group before going solo.
In 1976, Leroy Hutson released his third album: Hutson II. Recorded at Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom Studios (on North Lincoln Ave. in Chicago), he predated D’Angelo by twenty odd years in the sheer smoothness category. “Love this Feeling” (below) is just a taste of what Leroy Hutson is made of.