5 Things You Might Not Know About Donny Hathaway

Wednesday, August 2, 2017
5 Things You Might Not Know About Donny Hathaway

The late Donny Hathaway wrote many a classic tune and sang more than a few himself, too, but how much do you really know about the soulful songwriter? Well, now’s your chance to find out five things that – if we’ve done our job – you might not know!

  1. He met his future duet partner Roberta Flack while they were both attending Howard University in Washington, DC.

“When I met Donny, I mean, please,” Flack told NPR in 1996. “I thought I had heard some talented kids at Howard University when I walked in – and there were talented kids there – but Donny Hathaway just surpassed and just climbed over all of us in terms of his ability.”

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  1. He was the musical director for Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions.

After graduating from Howard University, Hathaway was invited by Mayfield to serve as the A&R director for his new label, Curtom Records, as well as to serve as a producer. It was a pretty great gig, but it proved to be a trifle trying for Hathaway when all was said and done, because when Mayfield hit the road with The Impressions, he wanted Hathaway to serve as the group’s musical director. Hathaway agreed, but it was clear that something was going to give if he didn’t decide to give something up of his own volition.

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  1. He was a staff musician for Chess Records.

Hathaway begged off of his work with Mayfield and took what he reasonably presumed would be a less stressful gig with Chess Records. "I really wanted to stay in town and find myself again,” he explained to journalist John Abbey in 1972. “In the space of about two years, I had come from being simply a gospel singer and musician into all of this and I was feeling confused, tired and somewhat bewildered. Phil Upchurch recommended me to Chess and at the time they were especially busy in their studios in Chicago. They paid me a basic salary and for that I had to be on hand for any sessions they might require me for, but after a little while it all became a little dull and Curtis was asking me to do arrangements for him. Now, I realized my loyalties were to Chess and so I always put them first but, frankly, the arrangements for Curtis meant far more money to me. So I decided to quit the studio job and make a try for myself.”

  1. He sang the theme song to Maude.

Despite his songwriting credentials, Hathaway didn’t pen the theme song: it was a collaboration between husband-and-wife songwriting duo Alan and Marilyn Bergman and jazz great Dave Grusin. It’s fair to say, however, that Hathaway still managed to make the song his own, soulfully praising feminist icons like Joan of Arc, Lady Godiva, and Betsy Ross.

  1. He wrote the score for Come Back, Charleston Blue, the sequel to Cotton Comes to Harlem.

Hathaway had worked on the soundtracks to a number of films, but Quincy Jones hired him to do the full score for Come Back, Charleston Blue, and he took him up on it. While the album didn’t spawn any major hits, the title track did manage to bubble under on the Billboard Hot 100.

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