Here’s a clip of underrated soul powerhouse Donny Hathaway with his famous interpretation of Leon Russell’s “A Song For You”. The track is taken from the singer’s second album, 1971’s Donny Hathaway.

Donny Hathaway had only just started to gain momentum before his death in 1979 of an apparent suicide, most likely due to the chronic depression he’d battled for a good portion of his life. The work for which he’s probably best known is his duets with Roberta Flack, most notably on their hit “Where is the Love?”, a stunning track which is arguably one of the greatest soul singles of that decade – which is saying something.

Donny Hathaway, here with Roberta Flack
Donny Hathaway, with Roberta Flack

The thing I like most about his voice is the fact that it just sounds so natural, so unaffected. The emotional landscape in this song alone, a tale of trying to save a love that has long since gone, is vividly real just because Hathaway’s performance is so respectful of its subject matter. His ego isn’t all over this, as it might be with a lesser talent. He lets the story do the work. He takes Leon Russell‘s song, and inhabits it.

Hathaway is one of those artists that should have been famous, and if he’d lived, perhaps he would have been at least on par with Luther Vandross in terms of commercial appeal. I’d like to think he probably would be celebrated with a resurgance like Solomon Burke and Al Green are currently enjoying too. This was the calibre of his talent. Yet, it’s not as if he’s left no mark on the work of current artists. If you can’t see the thread of Hathaway’s influence tied directly to Alicia Keyes for instance, I’d urge you to play the above clip again.

For more about Donny Hathaway, i’d urge you to investigate the Donny Hathaway MySpace page.



5 thoughts on “Donny Hathaway sings Leon Russell’s “A Song For You”

  1. I enjoyed this post very much. Great song!

    Mr. Hathaway’s version of “A Song for You” is tremendous. But I must say that the Temptations 1975 cover, with Dennis Edwards on lead, from their classic “A Song For You” lp might just has the edge over Hathaway’s version for me.

    Check it out here.

  2. Hi sondan,

    That’s a fantastic version too. I love the Temps, but don’t really know much about some of their later cuts – thanks for this.

    It’s a great version, but the Hathaway version sells it more for me. It provokes an emotional reaction.

    Thanks for comments and, again, for the clip too.

  3. If every writer on the planet wrote about Donny’s music, we still couldn’t come close to describing what a gift his talent truly was. I rarely make it through “A Song For You” without tears, it’s so beautiful.

    He had more talent in his pinky finger than all the Lady Gagas you could fit in any SuperBowl stadium. Thanks for sharing.


    1. Thanks, Indy.

      I was recently listening to the Donnie Hathaway/Roberta Flack duet album. Soul duets aren’t generally something I gravitate toward. But, wow; do their voices ever work well together.

      This tune blew me over when I first heard it. What an emotive delivery, too. It’s just gut wrenching. I think the art of interpretation is being lost these days, particularly in the R&B world. Acrobatics often replaces a shortfall for an ability to delve into the emotional core of a song, or in finding a side passage of meaning. With this, Hathaway was a musical titan.

      Thanks for reading and for commenting!

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