Single Stories: Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, “Back Together Again”
37 years ago this week, Roberta Flack entered the chart with the one of the final duets she recorded with her frequent vocal collaborator Donny Hathaway.
Flack and Hathaway had been friends since they first met as students at Washington, DC’s Howard University, but after both singers had become successes in their own rights – Flack’s was still more critical than commercial at the time, but even so – they became collaborators, teaming up for the appropriately-titled 1972 album ROBERTA FLACK & DONNY HATHAWAY. Their voices blended together gorgeously, and listeners reacted accordingly, which naturally led to further duets together, but Hathaway’s battle with depression and paranoid schizophrenia led to schisms in both his personal and professional relationships. Regrettably, it also led him down a path which ultimately led to his death when he fell from the 15th floor of New York’s Essex Hotel.
Just before his death, Hathaway had reconciled with Flack, and the duo had returned to the studio to start recording a new album of duets. Alas, they hadn’t finished the LP before he died, but even though it only included two duets, Flack opted to title the subsequent album ROBERTA FLACK FEATURING DONNY HATHAWAY. (If you’re wondering, “You Are My Heaven” was the other duet, and it was also the first single from the album.)
“Back Together Again,” which featured background vocal arrangements from Gwen Guthrie and Luther Vandross, was a top-10 hit on Billboard’s R&B Singles chart, hitting #8, but it was an even bigger hit across the pond, where it climbed all the way to #3 on the UK Singles chart. Yes, it’s nothing short of tragic that it was the last time Flack and Hathaway would hit the charts together, but at least they went out on a high.