March 23, 2010

Tune In Tuesday: Donny Hathaway

TV-One is airing a series called Unsung. It provides a 1-hour biography into the life and times of unsung African Americans in the music industry. I encourage any villager with TV-One access to find a way to watch or tape these shows.

The first one that I saw was about Donny Hathaway (1945-1979). Donny Hathaway was a soul singer in the early 70s with much promise: unfortunately he suffered from depression, which limited his own creative output and led to his suicide at the age of just 33. I'm becoming convinced that suicide is a bigger problem in the Black community than we let on.

Anyhow, Donny was considered a musical genius by those who knew him well. He started out as a songwriter, pianist, arranger and producer for the likes of Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, the Staple Singers and Jerry Butler, among others.

He soon signed to Atco and released a debut solo single, "The Ghetto Pt. 1", which wasn't a success but is now highly regarded by soul historians.

In 1970 he released his classic debut album, Everything Is Everything, which showcased his wonderful voice on the gospel "Thank You Master (For My Soul)", and the emerging social consciousness of soul music in "Tryin' Times".

His second, self-titled album was a disappointing covers record, but he followed it with an epic Live album that stands as one of the best live soul records ever. He followed this with a duets album with close friend Roberta Flack and a third studio album Extension of a Man in 1973.

He suffered from bouts of severe depression and was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic which led to a deterioration of his relationships including Flack, and they did not record together again until "The Closer I Get To You".

I became a college radio disc jockey in 1979 ... and one of the first songs that I grew to love to play during my set were "The Closer I Get to You and "Back Together Again".

Do you have any memories or thoughts about Donny Hathaway that you care to share?


Regina said...

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Donny Hathaway! I am so mad that I can't get TV one. My childhood was full of music, my mother would say that I was born with an old soul because I would always listen to music of the older generations (But they had the best stuff!!)
So much talent gone...

Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams said...

I wrote a piece about Donny a while back at African-American Books Examiner. I'll keep an eye out for this documentary. Thank you for letting us know.

Villager said...

Regina - Yes, we did lose a lot of talent from back in the day. That is the beauty of our blogs ... we can bring back the memories if we so desire. I hope you ge TV-One. Oddly, I've had it for awhile ... but, never watched it until I recently decided to DVR and watch series called, Lincoln Park

Nordette - I'm heading over to read your article now!