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Celebrating: Donny Hathaway

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Celebrating: Donny Hathaway
By Brendan.Wetmore@atlanticrecords.com

By the time Donny Hathaway signed a recording contract with Atlantic Records in 1969, a deep-rooted musical foundation was already set in-place. As a skilled pianist, jazz musician, and a session producer at Curtom Records, his gift lent itself to the arrangements of a whole host of classics. Once he embarked on his solo musical endeavors, his legacy and imprint on the ‘70s seemed simply predestined.

Donny cultivated a deep discography of larger-than-life soul hits throughout his career, always seeming to make instrumentation and the voice merge as one smooth take. Pair together his under-celebrated ability to hear music in such a maximalist manner, background studying music theory at Howard University on a full scholarship, and hits with star collaborators in the genre like Roberta Flack, and his sonic success knew no bounds.

On Donny’s debut, Everything Is Everything, listeners were introduced to the nearly-orchestral approach he took to the craft. Tracks like “Sugar Lee” contain his signature vocals, but also a breakdown of Donny-magnitude: flurries of coughs, yelps, and conversations stacked on top of claps and cascading key plucks. Listened straight through, every album of his feels just like this production: entirely alive and entirely Soul.

Audiences worldwide will surely recognize Donny’s 1970 holiday staple, “This Christmas,” through both its original rendition and innumerable covers. The track stood as a commercial breakthrough for him, and there was more success to be had on his third album, the Gold-certified 1972 record with labelmate Roberta Flack, Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway.

Celebrating Donny’s discography showcases not only the wealth of influences he pulled from throughout his career — classical, jazz, pop, gospel —  but his unending influence on modern songwriting. Taking a closer listen to his final solo studio album, 1973’s Extension of a Man, proves this tenfold. It opens with the near-cinematic track “I Love the Lord, He Heard Me Cry,” followed by what became a Black-liberation anthem, “Someday We’ll All Be Free,” and keeps pace throughout with soaring ballads (“I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know,” “I Know It’s You”) and truly eclectic pop cuts (“Magdalena,” “Love, Love, Love.”)

Donny Hathaway died on January 13, 1979, at 33 years old; his death was ruled a suicide. Donny’s irreplicable mark on the world is one musicians and audiences should cherish forever — with the same closeness and love as he took to making the music itself.

This Black History Month, Atlantic Records is celebrating the rich works and musical life of Donny Hathaway, The Unsung Genius.

  • By the time Donny Hathaway signed a recording contract with Atlantic Records in 1969, a deep-rooted musical foundation was already set in-place. As a skilled pianist, jazz musician, and a session
    All Access
on February 25, 2022 - 4:23pm

By the time Donny Hathaway signed a recording contract with Atlantic Records in 1969, a deep-rooted musical foundation was already set in-place. As a skilled pianist, jazz musician, and a session producer at Curtom Records, his gift lent itself to the arrangements of a whole host of classics. Once he embarked on his solo musical endeavors, his legacy and imprint on the ‘70s seemed simply predestined.

Donny cultivated a deep discography of larger-than-life soul hits throughout his career, always seeming to make instrumentation and the voice merge as one smooth take. Pair together his under-celebrated ability to hear music in such a maximalist manner, background studying music theory at Howard University on a full scholarship, and hits with star collaborators in the genre like Roberta Flack, and his sonic success knew no bounds.

On Donny’s debut, Everything Is Everything, listeners were introduced to the nearly-orchestral approach he took to the craft. Tracks like “Sugar Lee” contain his signature vocals, but also a breakdown of Donny-magnitude: flurries of coughs, yelps, and conversations stacked on top of claps and cascading key plucks. Listened straight through, every album of his feels just like this production: entirely alive and entirely Soul.

Audiences worldwide will surely recognize Donny’s 1970 holiday staple, “This Christmas,” through both its original rendition and innumerable covers. The track stood as a commercial breakthrough for him, and there was more success to be had on his third album, the Gold-certified 1972 record with labelmate Roberta Flack, Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway.

Celebrating Donny’s discography showcases not only the wealth of influences he pulled from throughout his career — classical, jazz, pop, gospel —  but his unending influence on modern songwriting. Taking a closer listen to his final solo studio album, 1973’s Extension of a Man, proves this tenfold. It opens with the near-cinematic track “I Love the Lord, He Heard Me Cry,” followed by what became a Black-liberation anthem, “Someday We’ll All Be Free,” and keeps pace throughout with soaring ballads (“I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know,” “I Know It’s You”) and truly eclectic pop cuts (“Magdalena,” “Love, Love, Love.”)

Donny Hathaway died on January 13, 1979, at 33 years old; his death was ruled a suicide. Donny’s irreplicable mark on the world is one musicians and audiences should cherish forever — with the same closeness and love as he took to making the music itself.

This Black History Month, Atlantic Records is celebrating the rich works and musical life of Donny Hathaway, The Unsung Genius.

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