Donny Edward Hathaway (October 1, 1945 – January 13, 1979)
An exceptional soul singer from Chicago, Donny Hathaway’s life ended early, but he left behind a legacy of classic music. He started singing and playing piano as a young child, and eventually attended Howard University on a music scholarship. In the mid-sixties, he played with a jazz group called the Ric Powell Trio, and was soon producing and arranging for many other acts. He also worked as a session musician, playing keys with the Staple Singers and Aretha Frankin among others. That led to him joining the Mayfield Singers, backing up Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions. In 1969, he got a deal with ATCO and released his debut solo single “The Ghetto Pt. 1.” His first full-length, the timeless Everything Is Everything came out the following year, establishing Hathaway as a visionary artist able to seamlessly blend funk, gospel, and social awareness in his music. His second album, 1971’s Donny Hathaway was a much more somber affair, with minimalist, piano-driven cover songs. On it, he hooked up with Roberta Flack for a duet version of “You’ve Got A Friend.” The track became a hit and led to an entire album of duets between the two, released the following year. From that LP came “Where Is the Love,” a huge hit single that won a Grammy and topped the charts. While his career was at an all-time high, Hathaway was gripped by severe depression, so much so that he had to be periodically hospitalized. His third and final studio album Extension Of A Man came out in 1973, after which he kept a low profile, performing infrequently and then only in small venues. Several years later he reconnected with Roberta Flack and scored another huge hit with “The Closer I Get To You,” but it would be his final one. In January of 1979 he committed suicide by jumping out a 15-story window in New York City. Although his career was short-lived, Donny Hathaway made a huge impact on R&B and popular music in general, dozens of hip-hop artists have since sampled his records, reconfiguring his tracks into numerous rap hits.