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.
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.