Donny Hathaway PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 21 October 2008 09:57

Donny Hathaway

Born: October 1, 1945, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.

Died: January 13, 1979, New York City.

Age: 33

Cause of death: Fall from 15th story of building.

Notable because:  Jumped out of 15th floor window for unexplained reasons, believed by many to be his consuming love for Roberta Flack, who, like himself, was married to another.


Donny Hathaway was an American soul musician. He signed with Atlantic Records in 1969, and with his first single "The Ghetto, Part I" (1970), Rolling Stone magazine "marked him as a major new force in soul music." His collaborations with Roberta Flack took him to the top of the charts and won him the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for the duet "Where Is the Love" in 1973. On January 13, 1979, his body was found outside the luxury hotel Essex House in New York City; his death was ruled a suicide.

Hathaway, the son of Drusella Huntley, was born in Chicago, but spent most of his youth in St. Louis. He lived with his grandmother, Martha Pitts, also known as Martha Crumwell, in the Carr Square housing project. Hathaway began singing in a church choir with his grandmother, a professional gospel singer, at the age of 3. He also played the ukulele and, fascinated by Liberace, began studying piano as a child. Hathaway began singing professionally as "Donny Pitts, The Nation's Youngest Gospel Singer". By the time he was a student at Vashon High School, he was known as a piano prodigy, which earned him a fine-arts scholarship to Howard University in 1964 where he was initiated into Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. He attended Howard for three years and performed with The Ric Powell Trio, a jazz trio. Hathaway received so many job offers that he left Howard without a degree in 1967.

At first, Hathaway worked as songwriter, session musician and producer. Working first at Chicago's Twinight Records, he later did the arrangements for The Unifics ("Court of Love" and "The Beginning Of My End") and participated in projects by The Staple Singers, Jerry Butler and Aretha Franklin, as well as with Curtis Mayfield. After becoming a "house producer" at Mayfield's label, Curtom Records, he recorded his first single in 1969, a duet with singer June Conquest called "I Thank You Baby".

Hathaway then signed to Atco Records, which released his first single of note, "The Ghetto, Pt. 1". His debut LP was Everything Is Everything (1970), which was critically acclaimed. His second album, Donny Hathaway, was a major hit. He also recorded an album of duets with former Howard University classmate and label mate Roberta Flack. The album was both a critical and commercial success, including the Ralph MacDonald-penned track "Where Is The Love", which proved to be not only an R&B hit, but also went Top Five on the pop charts. The album also included a number of other covers, including versions of Carole King's "You've Got a Friend" and "Baby I Love You", originally a hit for Aretha Franklin.

Hathaway followed this flurry of work with some contributions to soundtracks, along with his recording of the theme song to the TV series Maude. He also composed and conducted music for the 1972 soundtrack of the movie Come Back Charleston Blue

In the mid-1970s he also produced albums for other artists including Cold Blood, where he expanded the musical range of lead singer Lydia Pense.

At the height of his career, Hathaway began to suffer from severe bouts of depression. This condition wreaked havoc on his life, and led to several hospitalizations. The effects of Hathaway's deep depression also drove a wedge into Flack and Hathaway's friendship; they did not reconcile for several years, and did not release additional music until the 1978 release of "The Closer I Get To You". The single became a pop and R&B hit, and Flack and lewis returned to the studios to record a second album of duets thereafter.

On January 13, 1979, Hathaway was found dead on the sidewalk in front of the Essex House in New York City, where he had been living. His body showed no signs of struggle, and the glass from the window in Hathaway's room had been removed; investigators determined Hathaway had committed suicide. Friends, fans, and the media were mystified at his death, since his career and his partnership with Flack were on an upswing. Flack was devastated by his death, and included the few duet tracks they had finished on her next album.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson conducted Hathaway's funeral, which was attended by many notable people including Roberta Flack and Stevie Wonder. He was buried in Lake Charles Cemetery in Bel-Nor, Missouri.

Hathaway met his wife, Eulaulah, at Howard University. They had two daughters, Eulaulah Donyll (Lalah Hathaway) and Kenya Canelibra. Lalah has enjoyed a successful solo career, while Kenya is one of the three backing vocalists on the hit TV program American Idol.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 December 2008 16:09

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