In his 33 years of life, Donny Hathaway co-wrote, arranged and performed some of the most storied R&B music the world has ever heard. His rich tenor steeped in gospel takes center stage in soul classics such as “Someday We’ll All Be Free,” “I Know It’s You,” ”The Ghetto” and “This Christmas.” Hathaway also famously collaborated with Roberta Flack for some of the strongest love-rich ballads of the ’70s including “Where is the Love?,” ”The Closer I Get to You” and “Be Real Black for Me.”
A wide range of hip-hop artists, from Dr. Dre to Scarface to Chance the Rapper, have sampled his work. And the singers and instrumentalists associated with what was once called neo-soul have closely studied Hathaway’s signature Fender Rhodes-playing, his vocal clarity and his lyrical mix of lust, spirituality and sociopolitical testimony. His daughter, Lalah, carries on his legacy with her own powerful voice.
Donny Hathaway’s career ended tragically in 1979, when he fell from a window at the Essex House hotel in New York City. It was ruled that Hathaway, who had long struggled with mental illness, had committed suicide.
Today, on what would’ve been Hathaway’s 70th birthday, we present a few of his best-known numbers, spanning the breadth of his too-short career and including contemporary renditions by Lalah and John Legend & The Roots.
What’s your favorite Donny Hathaway song? Let us know in the comments!