In January of 1979, the great soul artist Donny Hathaway fell fifteen stories from a window of Manhattan’s Essex House Hotel in an alleged suicide. He was 33 years old and everyone he worked with called him a genius. Best known for “A Song for You,” “This Christmas,” and classic duets with Roberta Flack, Hathaway was a composer, pianist, and singer committed to exploring “music in its totality.” His velvet melisma and vibrant sincerity set him apart from other soul men of his era while influencing generations of singers and fans whose love affair with him continues to this day.
The first nonfiction book about Hathaway, Donny Hathaway Live uses original interviews, archival material, musical analysis, cultural history, and poetry to tell the story of Hathaway’s life, from his beginnings as a gospel wonder child to his final years. But its focus is the brutally honest, daringly gorgeous music he created as he raced the clock of mental illness-especially in the performances captured on his 1972 album Donny Hathaway Live. That album testifies to Hathaway’s uncanny ability to amplify the power and beauty of his songs in the moment of live performance.
By exploring that album, we see how he generated a spiritual experience for those present at his shows, and for those with the privilege to listen in now.
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