Like so many great African-American soul singers, Donny started out singing Gospel from an early age.
Receiving a scholarship, he studied music at Howard University where he met his future favorite female singer to duet with, Roberta Flack.
After University, he started working as a songwriter, session musician, and even producer for Curtis Mayfield’s record label Curtom Records.
Working closely with Curtis, Staple Singers, and Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway soon started releasing his own records, the first being a duet with June Conquest, I Thank You Baby (1969).
The debut single charted on the R&B charts and a debut album, Everything Is Everything, followed the next year.
The debut had tunes like Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything), Misty, and The Ghetto, but this is mainly an “album experience” and comes highly recommended.
His next studio album came in 1971 and was simply called Donny Hathaway. One tune here, He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother, is well known, although mainly from The Hollies and Neil Diamond’s versions.
The same year, he sang backing vocals on Roberta’s classic Killing Me Softly With His Song.
You simply must hear one of Hathaway’s versions found on an album called Someday We’ll All Be Free (it’s in the playlist above!). It’s not just for the performance, which is great, but sonically, I do not understand how they got it to sound that superb. I suspect it’s mainly down to how everybody in the band plays and leaves space for each other.
The same year, he also released an album with Roberta Flack, simply named Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway (1972). Here we get a duet of You’ve Got A Friend as well as You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” (The Righteous Brothers).
Donny Hathaway’s final album came in 1973, called Extension of a Man. Check out Someday We’ll All Be Free and Love, Love, Love.
After this album, Donny slipped into depression and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. After four years in and out of the hospital, he teamed up with Roberta again and recorded The Closer I Get to You (1978) for her album Blue Lights In the Basement.
This led him to start working on another album of duets with Flack. Halfway through the production, Donny had a mental breakdown, claiming white people had connected to his brain using a machine to steal his voice.
The session was canceled, musicians were sent home, and hours later, Donny Hathaway was found on the pavement, 15 floors below his hotel room’s balcony, from which police concluded he must have jumped.
Many artists have claimed Donny Hathaway to be their favorite singer, including Justin Timberlake, Amy Winehouse, and Raul Midon. The final song he recorded, You Are My Heaven, was co-written with Stevie Wonder who once said: When Donny sings any song, he owns it.
Donny Hathaway tunes | Related pages
You can learn how to play Misty by Ella Fitzgerald using chords, lyrics, chord analysis, TAB, and the original recording.
| Bbmaj7 | Fm7 Bb7 | Ebmaj7 |
Look at me, I’m as helpless as a kitten up a tree…
What’s Going On
You can learn how to play What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye using chords, lyrics, chord analysis, and the original recording.
| Emaj9 | Emaj9 | C#m7 | C#m7 |
Mother, mother. There’s too many of you crying…
You’ve Got A Friend
Learn how to play You’ve Got A Friend by Carol King and James Taylor using chords, lyrics, chord analysis, TAB, and the original recordings.
| Em | B7/F# | Em B7/F# | G B7/F# Em Em/D |
When you’re down and troubled and you need some lovin’ care…