The meeting of the two soul partners
Donny Hathaway, born in October 1945 in Chicago, was raised by his grandmother, a gospel singer. Gospel, music and piano, a sturdy music education that opens the doors of the university of Howard where he meets his label mate Roberta Flack, 15 years old, one of the youngest girl on the campus, brilliant, just arriving from North Carolina, with a full music scolarship and a serious religious musical background. Singer, musician, piano player, organist, choir director... 19 year old Roberta is forced to take a job teaching Music and English in North Carolina for a couple of years.
Roberta actually begins her musical career in Washington: she teaches at school, accompanies opera singers on the piano and sings the blues during intermissions, in addition to singing two evenings a week at the 1520 Club. Frederick Wilkerson, her singing teacher sees a better future for her in the pop music repertoire. She switches and sings at M. Henry's restaurant where her unusual voice draws a knowledgeable crowd including Woody Allen and Bill Cosby.
Lee McCann notices her and set up an audition at Atlantic Records, which leads to the recording of her first album First Take.
Donny's career begins after 3 years at Twinight records, where he works behind the scenes with the Staple Singers, Jerry Butler, Aretha Franklin and Curtis Mayfield. In 1970, he is back on singing and releases his first album Everything is Everything,
with two of his famous hits The Ghetto
and the title cut.
In 1971, Donny and Roberta release together a new Lp on which they sing the duet You’ve got a friend (a cover by Carole King). First Grammy Award in 1971.
Surfing on their rise in the charts, they record a second Lp including the hit Where is the Love?. It's the second Grammy Award! Two more will reward Donny Hathaway:The Closer I Get To You (Single 1978), Back Together Again (Single 1980).
Parallel to the duo, their solo careers keep on going
Chapter Two is quite obviously her second album released in 1971.
Donny Hathaway releases the album Donny Hathaway
in 1971, with a great arty cover.
Two careers boosted by soundtracks
In 1971, Clint Eastwood chooses to use The first time I saw your face
from Roberta's first album for his movie Play Misty for me.
The soundtrack of the thriller triggers the success of the singer. The success continues with the release of the legendary album and single
In 1972, Donny Hathaway composes the soundtrack of Come Back Charleston Blue, sequel to the movie Cotton Comes to Harlem(1970)
et enre and records the theme song of the TV series Maude.
At the height of his art, a brutal ending
During this intensive time period, he records one of his concerts for his fourth album Live
. A true masterpiece, the album reflects the unbelievable communion binding the singer, his musicians and the audience.
At the heights of his art, he suffers from a severe mental illness, which lead him to several stays at the psychiatric hospital. His relationship with Roberta deteriorates. For almost five years, he disappears from the stage. Then he comes back and reconciles with Roberta in 1977. They're back to the recording studios for Roberta's new album The Closer I Get to You
. Instantaneous hit!
While good omens are back on private and music life, Donny Hathaway's dead body is found at the bottom of his building, on January 13th 1979. His sudden death leaves his family and friends in deep sadness and misunderstanding.
Roberta moves on with her music, recording and producing albums all along the 70ies, 80ies and 90ies. Icon of the Black struggle for the recognition of their rights, she's one of the greatest characters of the soul and rock music. In 1980, she releases an album dedicated to her friend Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway.
Donny Hathaway's work has influenced a series of musicians and soul singers. Many of them have paid tribute to him in their songs such is the case with George Benson, Amy Wine House, Lauryn Hill, the rap musician Nas, Stevie Ray Vaughan ...