Lalah Hathaway has been around a long time. The Grammy award-winning songstress has proven that she has staying power in a fickle industry that appears to embrace the opposite of what she represents. The daughter of musicians, legendary singer Donny Hathaway and classically trained vocalist Eulaulah Hathaway, Hathaway takes R&B music seriously and believes that soul music reflects the history, present and future of black culture and society. “I see rhythm and blues music or soul music, as a history book,” says the Berklee College of Music graduate. “At a certain point in history, soul music and rhythm and blues music told the story of blacks in this country and then spoke to other experiences.” Hathaway’s thoughts about black music reflect a life lived amongst black cultural producers like her mother, mentor and collaborator, the late great Joe Sample and a cultural and political identity that influences her melodic and mesmerizing vocals.
Hathaway takes her music and being an artist very seriously and wishes more artists felt the same. She is clear that her father and his contemporaries like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye used music to talk about what they were seeing in the world and to critique society and a profound lack of justice facing black Americans, which influences her music. Social justice is inherently a part of Hathaway’s identity and music. While many musical artists say they’re doing the same thing, Hathaway doesn’t see it. “I try not to judge and it’s really no shade but these artists, and I use the term loosely, just are not seeing enough. The landscape is so narrow. And so when you have people talking about social justice, it really sticks out, because nobody’s really talking about anything.”
Hathaway has been challenging the naysayers and pretenders for nearly twenty-five years, bringing history into her production and performance. The two-time Grammy award winner’s latest effort, a live album entitled, Lalah Hathaway LIVE! was recorded live at the historic Troubadour Theater in Los Angeles earlier this year, in the same place where her father recorded half of his seminal 1972 album Donny Hathaway Live. Her seventh album, LIVE! delivers the full-force and intimate live Lalah Hathaway experience that fans everywhere love. Hathaway has sold out performances throughout the country including Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta, where promoters had to add an additional show. Lalah Hathaway sees this album as a continuum in her work, but also recognizes that it is a departure from her previous albums because she put the entire album together, “from soup to nuts.”
Hathaway, who grew up with a lot of live records, live bands and live musicians, used those experiences to build this album. Her favorite album growing up was Donny Hathaway Live! Some would fall apart growing up in the shadow of a musical genius, but Hathaway rose to the challenge, creating an album that would complement his iconic album. “That record gave me so much…so many dreams and so many visions. I always imagined, because music was heard and not seen in the 70s and 80s, what it looked like. What were the people wearing? How were they seated? Was he in the middle of the floor? Did he keep his hat on the whole performance? I had all these visions. And it was my dream to create something that I felt could stand next to that piece,” says Hathaway.
While many know about her father, Hathaway comes from a long line of musicians, which influences her musical appreciation, performances and stylings. “My parents met at Howard University in the Fine Arts department. They were both musicians. My father’s grandparents were musicians and uncles and aunts were musicians. And so as a musician, that was with me before I even got to the planet.” Hathaway understands her God-given talents and what it takes to hone them. She learns from her mother who still travels with her when she performs. Hathaway stands proudly on the shoulders of a family and community as she continues to make her way in an industry that appears to be more interested in Twitter beefs and music that is seen and not heard.
In spite of this issue, Hathaway continues the tradition of great music, production and performance as she moves into new territory, forming a venture between Hathaway Entertainment and Entertainment One Music (eOne Music) to produce this latest album which will be released on October 30 and will feature her musical take on Anita Baker’s hit song “Angel” and Donny Hathaway’s live song “Little Ghetto Boy.”
Phil Thornton, eOne Music’s Vice-President and General Manager of Urban Inspirational, says: “Lalah Hathaway is a world-class artist with a rich history and talent that’s second to none.” He adds, “She has been creating great music for over 20 years and eOne is excited to work with someone of her stature and continue that success.”
Hathaway is committed to success as she is to making this seventh album a force to be reckoned with in the music industry.
A former ambassador for the Susan G. Komen Circle of Promise Initiative which targets African-American women, Hathaway is committed to creating change in society through her music and actions. A self-described “student at heart,” Hathaway stays on the road practicing and perfecting her tools, soaks up knowledge from mentors and collaborators and stays focused on making music that speaks to and for the world community. At a time when being black is downright dangerous and being a black woman in music or society is precarious, Hathaway keeps it in perspective. “I try to present myself as a lady, not to be stodgy because I spill tea like everyone else. I have a mother that’s still breathing so there’s a certain standard that I have to uphold,” says Hathaway who has Kim Burrell, Terri Lyne Carrington, Kendrick Lamar and Lianne La Havas in heavy rotation.
“As an artist, I feel like I have a responsibility to do better, to do more for audiences, for society” says the soul singer. With Lalah Hathaway LIVE, the soul singer continues to accomplish that goal one musical note at a time.
Lalah Hathaway Livewill be released Friday, October 30, 2015.
This article was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news blog, The Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual.