Sunday Jazz Corner With Donny Hathaway

Photo of Donny Hathaway

A Song For You, was written by Leon Russell in 1970 and is considered an American classic.  Many performers have sang this song, from jazz icons to pop superstar Elton John.  But nobody has sang it quite like Donny Hathaway.  This song is a great example of how a really powerful ballad can transcend all genres and styles of singers from rock to soul, blues to jazz, pop to country.  Donny’s version brings out the soulful core of this heartfelt classic with his distinct vocal timing and texture and emotion bringing it to a level that few performers can reach with such conviction and truth.  You really believe those lyrics that he is singing.  There is no doubt in our minds that he has lived this song and he commands our complete attention with that touch of church added to it from his early gospel roots where he sang in the church choir with his Grandmother, who was a professional gospel singer herself.  It definitely ranks in the top 10 songs written of all time, if not in the top five.

Donny Edward Hathaway was an American jazz, blues, soul, and gospel vocalist and musician.  Known for his own songs and solo career he also had many hits with vocalist and friend Roberta Flack, including “Where Is The Love” and “The Closer I Get To You”.  His friendship with Roberta Flack goes back to college days where they attended Howard University together and remained friends until Donny’s death in 1979.  It is reported Hathaway was found dead on the sidewalk below the window  of his 15th-floor room in New York’s Essex House hotel.  He had jumped from his balcony.  His life ended way too soon as it is written he had battled with psychological issues throughout the best part of his career.  He began to suffer from severe bouts of depression and it was found that he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.  Over the course of the 1970s, Hathaway’s mental instability wreaked havoc on his life and required several hospitalizations.  The effects of his melancholia 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.  Flack and Hathaway then resumed studio recording to compose a second album of duets.

Hathaway and his wife, Eulaulah, had two daughters, Eulaulah Donyll (Lalah Hathaway) and 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.  If you do not have any music by Donny Hathaway here is a great starter album for you to buy A Donny Hathaway Collection.  He remains one of the finest singers of our time.

Here is Donny Hathaway singing  1) A Song For You and below it is the original version, 2) A Song For You by Leon Russell.  Not just anyone can write a song like this.  When you listen to Leon’s version, you can almost hear the song “visually” through his humble conviction and the sincerity in which he sings it.  A timeless song transcends through all musical styles.  The final video is a duet with Roberta Flack, 3) You Are My Heaven, which was co-written by Stevie Wonder for Donny Hathaway.  He had a lot of angels in his corner.  A very sad ending for an incredible talent.  As one of the commenters writes in the comments section below, “this is music at its best.”