Donny Hathaway’s life was tragically short, but in his 33 years on earth, he was able to leave a sound and feel to his music that is still revered today. Like many great musicians, Hathaway got his music start in the church. Raised in St Louis and Chicago, he began singing in the choir and studying piano at a very young age. He would later attend Howard University to further his jazz studies.
Hathaway began working professionally in the music business as a producer, arranger, and a session musician in the early days. He was a talented pianist and worked with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Jerry Butler, and the Staple Singers before he started his singing career. Hathaway’s experience working with such talented people set him up for his own success. Hathaway released his first studio album in 1970 titled “Everything Is Everything.” The album received excellent reviews and put Hathaway in the center of the music scene.
Hathaway had a smooth, gospel-inspired voice. His strong command of the music resonated with audiences, and he gained in popularity after the release of his first album. Two years later he would begin a collaboration that would last for a decade with Roberta Flack. The two recorded many times together and released their first duet album in 1972 titled “Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway.” The album was a smash hit and was certified Gold. Another collaboration in 1978 titled, “The Closer I Get to You” would go on to be a number one track. Their last compilation was in 1980 with the release of “Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway” which was also certified Gold.
The tragedy of Hathaway’s story is the difficulty he had working through his mental illness. He was an incredible musician who had to wrestle with the strain of depression. His depression was enough to require hospitalization for extended periods during his life. Hathaway ended his own life in 1979. He was only 33 years old. Donny Hathaway’s music still lives on and continues to influence R&B and jazz music today.