Classics: Donny Hathaway – The Ghetto – (Atco Records)
No matter what! I suppose Donny Hathaway could hardly have done any better than debutting with ‘The Ghetto’ back in 1969. Maybe apart from delivering a longer version. Which he did on his 1970 ‘Everything Is Everything’ album. Then a 12 minutes + quicker one the year after on his ‘Live’ album!
As a matter of fact, ‘The Ghetto’ makes no wonder about its socially conscious content. Even though it’s more of an instrumental at the end. Most definitely synonymous with an instant appeal in terms of composition. This with its insane guitar line courtesy of Phil Upchurch on one hand. But also Hathaway enlightening the whole with a stellar electric piano line, on the other one. With the whole somehow reminding of Santana‘s magnetic ‘Crying Beasts’. And, in the meantime, comin’ up with all the ingredients of a jazz jam. And, by that, I’m most likely talkin’ here about its live rendition. All in all proudly standing as the mother of all grooves, nearly half of a century after its release.
More than 30 years would go before George Benson gave it a cover version. This with ‘El Barrio’ that saw him jamming along with a bunch of luminaries. From Joe Sample on piano. To Claudia Acuña, India, Lisa Fischer, Richard Shade and Roy Ayers on backing vocals. Not to mention its production work courtesy of Masters At Work along with Tommy LiPuma back in 2000.
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Donny Hathaway is of those rare figures speaking of whom the souvenir has remained alive along with time. Belonging to a list where are to be found Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix or Amy Winehouse more recently. If not 60’s actor James Dean or Formula 1 Brazilian pilot Ayrton Senna among others. As many faces which a tragical destiny prevented from delivering the entirety of their talent.
A native of Chicago, IL, Donny Hathaway grew up in St-Louis, MO. There he began singin’ in a church choir by the age of 3 along with his grandma, who was a Gospel teacher. And he eventually studied piano. Graduating from from Vashon High School in 1963, He then studied music on a fine arts scholarship at Howard University in Washington, DC, where he met close friend Roberta Flack.
Hathaway worked as songwriter, session musician for Curtis Mayfield‘s Curtom Records in Chicago. Eventually becoming a house-producer for the label. He also started recording there. Delivering his first single – ‘I Thank You Baby’ – while sharing the vocal duties with June Conquest.
Short would be Hathaway‘s career though. Although his legacy keeps on speaking for itself. This with classics such as ‘The Ghetto’. A song he co-wrote with former Howard roommate Leroy Hutson, which George Benson would cover some 30 years after. Or the sadly premonitory ‘Giving Up’. But also ‘Extension Of A Man’, ‘A Song For You’ or ‘Someday We Will Be Free’. Not to mention ‘Where Is The Love’ and ‘Back Together Again’ that saw him sharing the bill with Roberta Flack…
The highly emotional ‘I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know’, which he recorded back in 1972 as a part of his ‘Extension Of A Man’, most definitely completing the list.
Hathaway began to suffer from severe bouts of depression. This while at the peak of his career. ith paranoid schizophrenia disturbing his relations with his family and friends (beginning with Roberta Flack). Even though he took strong medication to control his disease.
During a session for the recording of another album on Jan. 13, 1979, producers James Mtume and Eric Mercury reported he behaved like in a strange way. This bringing them to abort the session at the end. Then, a few hours later, someone found Donny inanimate. He was on the sidewalk below the window of his 15th-floor room in New York’s Essex House hotel.
A report followed stating that he had jumped from his balcony. Even though his family always had serious doubts about the investigators’ conclusion as being a suicide.
The Rvd Jackson managed to conduct his funeral. With The Whispers recording the memorable ‘Song For Donny’ as a tribute, later on that year…
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