Donny Hathaway’s life may have been tragically cut short at an early age, but that had no reflection on the enormous impact and influence his music has continued to have on both listeners and artists worldwide.
Beginning his career behind the scenes, he wrote, arranged and played as a session musician, supporting artists like Aretha Franklin and The Staple Singers before becoming part of The Mayfield Singers, who backed up Curtis Mayfield’s Impressions.
Following the release of his debut single in 1969 alongside June Conquest, Hathaway released possibly his most acclaimed track, ‘The Ghetto”, a song written with his former university room mate Leroy Hutson, which has since been sampled by numerous hip hop artists. As well as releasing several studio albums, Hathaway was known for his partnership with fellow soul singer Roberta Flack, with whom he famously released a beautiful cover of Carole King’s ‘You’ve Got A Friend’.
Always saturated with emotion, the raw and earnest kind, Hathaway’s output has captured many hearts, including DC-based singer and producer dreamcastmoe, who vividly remembers being lovestruck by the sincerity of Hathaway’s lyricism the first time he heard his track ‘Giving Up’. The PPU affiliate has since taken inspiration from Hathaway’s approach, not just lyrically but in being able to celebrate the imperfections and to remain genuine.
Approaching his tribute mix from the perspective of a first time listener, dreamcastmoe showcases the purity of both Donny and his daughter Lalah Hathaway’s output, and reminds us that love isn’t always perfect…
Buy dreamcastmoe’s latest EP Lamont.
Why does Donny Hathaway mean so much to you?
Donny’s music was his own personal release for a lot of artists. To go through so much emotionally and then put it all out lyrically. No matter what was going on with his life, he had the ability to be really raw and honest about the love he had in his life, and also produce incredible music. He wouldn’t let mainstream music stop him from being really honest. Lyrically I think he matches what I try to do. Even if he’s hurt emotionally it comes out through his music and that’s something I really admire about him.
What makes a Donny Hathaway record so unique?
I think this has to do with a lot of his early movement. He was from Chicago, raised in Missouri but went to Howard University in Washington D.C. He has a lot of influences from not just mid-western & southern soul music but also this newer east coast funk and soul infused. You can hear what the African American experience in America was through his voice, a lot of movement and fluidity.
When did you first hear Donny Hathaway music and what impact did it have on you? What’s your most sacred Donny Hathaway record and why?
It was the first time I was ever in love with someone – I know that sounds dramatic but that is just me! I had heard his music before but the first song that really resonated with me was a song called ‘Giving Up’ and that is by far my most sacred Donny Hathaway song. When I hear that song I cry, it’s basically saying ‘as much as I love this person I choose myself’. That was the first time I ever heard a man say that. It hurt him to feel like he was giving up on another person but at the end of the day that’s just what he had to do to survive. I think too much music today is unrealistic, like you’re gonna give this person a million second chances or you’re going to allow this person to bring you down but in reality it’s not genuine.
Any standout memories from dropping a Donny Hathaway track in a mix?
The first time I dropped a Donny Hathaway song in a mix was for the Patta mix. It was a Valentine’s Day special mix so I thought it fitted perfectly.
How has Donny Hathaway impacted you as a producer?
As a producer he has always made me want to stay close to working with a band even though it’s the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life. Working with 5 other people on a record, I will say is very difficult. He always kept me honest in terms of what my sound is, as his sound is so full. It’s honest. I wouldn’t say I hear mistakes, but I hear those things that are like ‘oh I would have wanted that to be louder’ etc. I think as producers we always want to perfect things, but with him, his voice was so amazing that he would just make the arrangements and do one take on it. That’s how you would record things back then anyway. He was so good that he could let the other things slide, but the purpose of the record wasn’t for it to sound perfect, it was for Donny and I love that about him.
How did you approach this mix? What did you want it to say about Donny Hathaway and his music?
I started by digging back into his discography and listening from the perspective of a first time listener. I wanted to showcase him but also his daughter. I wanted to give respects to Lalah Hathaway, she’s one of my favourite singers as well. I wanted to say that Donny Hathway is the purest form of love through music. Too many people show the perfect side of love and not enough people show the imperfections, the sleepless nights, the crying, the awkwardness and I respect him for showcasing that.
What would you say is Donny Hathaway’s biggest legacy on music?
His biggest effect on music is honesty.
Buy dreamcastmoe’s latest EP Lamont.