A cult figure which continues to loom large in the annals of soul singers, Donny Hathaway in his short time on earth, left behind an inspiring legacy of elevating the music into a more spiritual plane.
This short bio is to pique the interest in Hathaway, and guide readers to the more extended profile of the man here @ all about jazz in an outstanding article by C.N. Harold entitled: Donny Hathaway; Celebrating the Spirit and the Soul.
Hathaway was born in Chicago on October 1, 1945, but spent much of his childhood in St. Louis, where he lived in the Carr Square public housing project with his grandmother, Martha Pitts, who also went by the name Martha Crumwell. Pitts was a professional gospel singer, and Hathaway spent his early childhood time in church, watching her rehearse and perform. Inspired by this environment and the natural development of his talents he was drawn to a life of music.
Hathaway soon began singing professionally as "Donny Pitts, The Nation's Youngest Gospel Singer." He also played the ukulele on stage, studied the piano, and as a child was fascinated by flamboyant piano virtuoso Liberace. At St. Louis's Vashon High School, he quickly made a name for himself as a piano prodigy. Backed by the support of his teachers, Hathaway earned a fine-arts scholarship to Howard University and entered in 1964. During his time at Howard, he met his future wife, Eulaulah, and recording artist Roberta Flack. Hathaway would leave Howard without his degree after three years of study; he had begun to receive lucrative job offers, in part because of his membership in a group called the Rick Powell Trio.
While at Howard, Hathaway achieved early success in the recording industry by working as a producer and arranger for several acts, including Aretha Franklin and the Staple Singers. He also produced artists for Chess and Stax Records, and served as the band director for the Impressions, a group fronted by another Howard classmate, Leroy Hunter. In 1969, Hathaway teamed with a singer named June Conquest and recorded the single "I Thank You" for Curtis Mayfield's Curtom label and sang backup with the Mayfield Singers. Signed by Atlantic Records in 1969, Hathaway's first single, "The Ghetto, Part I," was released in late October and peaked on the R&B charts at No. 23 the following January. The heartbreaking, mournful tale of inner-city misery quickly established Hathaway as a talented singer/songwriter with a deep debt to his gospel roots.